The majority of today’s students feel quite comfortable using the Internet; to stay informed and entertained, they check their favorite websites and mobile apps frequently. Though it is always important for them to consider the value, relevance, and accuracy of the information they’ve found, it’s especially imperative to do so when they want to incorporate it into their coursework or apply it to the work they’ll complete in their future careers. In order to use this information appropriately, they must think critically about what they’re reading and carefully assess its credibility and relevance.
In their book The Purposeful Argument: A Practical Guide, Second Edition, Harry Phillips and Patricia Bostian provide students with several questions that help students evaluate the information they find online. We’ve paraphrased their points below. Encourage your students to think through these questions as they work on their projects. By taking these steps, they’ll be better prepared to use information ethically, wisely, and effectively.
1. Determine the author of the site and his or her credibility. Is the author’s name readily available? Is the author considered an expert in the topic or field? Does the website provide contact information for the writer? Given the writer’s credentials, would you trust him or her to be an unbiased source?
2. Examine the work for bias. Read the material with a critical eye. If the information appears extremely one sided, or if it reveals a strong bias for or against a particular individual, group, or idea, then be very cautious as you evaluate whether or not it is truly a reliable source for your project.
3. Check the timeliness of the work. Depending on your purposes, you may want or need to find the most recent information available on your topic, especially if you hope to cite the latest research and developments in a given area, or discuss the most current perspectives on an issue. Can you find the date the material was published? Is its publication date recent enough for your purposes? Does the site reference other current information, or are all of its sources fairly dated?
4. Finally, check the functionality of the site. If you click on the links, do they work? Are images clear? Can you access and download any posted materials? If too many links are dead, or if too many photos are missing, this gives you a clue to the currency–as well as the accuracy–of the material (Phillips and Bostian, 83).
Reference: Phillips, Harry and Patricia Bostian. 2015. The Purposeful Argument: A Practical Guide, 2nd ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
How do you encourage students to think critically about what they’re reading online? Share your tips and strategies in the comments.