New Literacies: Teaching Critical Evaluation Tools for the Validation of Websites

For the majority of students today the internet is the first go to place for information, for both social and research purposes.  It has become an important tool and part of the ‘new literacies’  (Kara-Soteriou, 2007).   As teachers we are no exception.  It has become quite often, my first port of call too, particularly if I am at home or on the move and not in the Library.  In fact the research that went into this blog was the result of one such process.  I was reading an old issue of “Connections” the SCIS news letter, while sitting in a waiting room and using my mobile phone looked up the websites listed in the reference.  I suddenly realised that without even thinking I had automatically chosen to use a digital reference to further my understanding of a particular topic.  The article of interest was “Information and critical literacy on the web”.   On reflection after reading this article, I found that although I had been teaching children to verify a sites authenticity by looking at who published the site and when it was published, I had failed to understand just what that entailed.  My approach was a very superficial one and was based on a limited understanding of how the ‘web’ really worked.  I am not unusual in this, there are a lot of people (including the majority of teachers at my school) who really don’t understand the information contained in a URL or how to verify a site properly.

The other area of concern was the common misconceptions regarding search engines.  It is not just the students who are guilty of doing a ‘google’.  All too often we choose to rely on google to do a search for us.  I have made the assumption that a search using ‘Google’, placed the web sites found in order of relevance.  To my horror I have found that companies engage in ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, that allows them to improve the visibility of a webpage in the search results.  I feel so naive, but after talking to people in schools and other workplaces, it appears that this lack of understanding is not unusual.  More than ever, this illustrates how important Teacher Librarians are in educating the students to be critically literate in this digital arena, so that we can better equip them for life in the wider community where they will be accessing and using information gained via the internet.

The internet is a giant repository of information, it is not peer reviewed, anyone can publish a web page and not all the information is unbiased or accurate.  Therefore, it is essential that teachers and students learn to critically evaluate the information that they find in order to become informed, literate, and self-directed learners (Oddone, 2016).  Critical evaluation of internet information is an important part of critical literacy.  Students must be taught a number of skills in order to achieve this, including not only how to evaluate whether the online information is relevant but also to read and interpret the websites URL (Kara-Soteriou, 2007).  Teaching the students how to breakdown the URL address is a great place to start, because understanding where you are on the web and the source of the information helps to establish the credibility and the accuracy of the website.

Breakdown of a URL (Universal Resource Locator)

breakdown-url

Breakdown of an URL, WIA – WEB DEV – Resources by FAB LAB SAN DIEGO. http://www.fablabsd.org/wia-webdev-resources/

 

http: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol – common websites

Domain: The company or organisation that is responsible for the information or is providing computer space where the information is stored.

Domain extension: The type of organisation that created or sponsored the resource.

File path: Includes the directory/folder, file and file type.   This shows where the page is stored.

 

A useful strategy for students to critically evaluate the validity of a website when researching is the ‘REAL’ test.  It was developed by Alan November, an educational technology consultant.

Alan November

The use of “REAL”  in the following acrostic is very effective in guiding students to evaluate the URL’s that they find.

Read the URL

Examine the site’s content and history

Ask about the author/publisher

Look at the links

 

How to Evaluate Websites supplied by Kathy Schrock (2016). Critical Evaluation.  http://www.schrockguide.net/critical-evaluation.html

The following digital tools were examined by Kay Oddone (2014), and provide some excellent tools to achieve the ‘REAL’ test.

  • To examine the site’s content and history we can use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (https://web.archive.org/)
  • Ask about the publisher or the author through easywhois (https://www.easywhois.com).  Here you can find out who owns a website or who published the information.
  • Looking at the links enables us to find out what websites link to the webpage that is being viewed.  The number of links to a page determines how far up in the search it will appear.  The more links the higher in the search list.  The links to a site tell us a lot about the credibility of a site, who uses it and whether it is valuable enough to share.
  • There are an incredible number of images available on the web and many students copy these to use in their own publications and assignments.  Not withstanding the issue of copyright, there is also the issue of verifying the origin and authenticity of an image.  ‘Tin Eye’ is a reverse image search tool (https://www.tineye.com/)

A great place to find more information on this, is the blog “LinkingLearning – Connecting contemporary learning from many sources” by Kay Oddone:  https://linkinglearning.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/becoming-info-savvy-information-and-critical-literacy-in-the-web-world/

Another good site that contains a large list of ready to use resources for teaching students the skills necessary to critically evaluate web addresses and sites is: Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything: Critical Evaluation. (2016).   http://www.schrockguide.net/critical-evaluation.html.

We often think that because youth use digital tools regularly, having grown up with them, that they are digitally literate.  They are able to use these tools with ease and familiarity and quickly adapt to new technology, but are they truly literate?   With the changing definition of literacy (as we integrate the digital technologies of the internet) becoming one of New literacies, it is paramount that information literacy skills are taught and students learn to critically evaluate information found on the Web.  There are a lot of resources available to help us to educate and equip today’s students to become truly digitally savvy natives, so how do we as educators integrate this into our teaching strategies and what role will the library and Librarian play in facilitating New literacies?

References

Oddone. K. (2014). Becoming info savvy: Information and critical literacy in the web world.  LinkingLearning, WordPress.  https://linkinglearning.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/becoming-info-savvy-information-and-critical-literacy-in-the-web-world/  Accessed 30 / Septermber 2016

Alan November (2013). Web Literacy, IV How to Read a Web Address.  November Learning.   http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/information-literacy-resources/4-how-to-read-a-web-address/   Accessed 30 / September 2016

Kara-Soteriou, J (2007). The Internet as a Resource for Critical Literacy Learning and Applications.  New England Reading Association Journal 2007: 90-96.  Proquest, http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/docview/206031514?pq-origsite=summon  Accessed: 12/October 2016

1 thought on “New Literacies: Teaching Critical Evaluation Tools for the Validation of Websites

  1. This post brings back memories of the foundation subject, Evaluating and Conducting Educational Research, studied as part of the Masters of Education program at QUT. In this subject we are specifically taught skills and theory in sourcing and critiquing peer-reviewed, quantitative and qualitative research papers. I remember this subject being so eye opening! In fact I questioned my learning throughout my undergraduate program and could truly see significant opportunities on how to improve my research process. Before this subject I didn’t really go beyond the surface of what the article articulated. I can see now the importance of sourcing critical understandings and delving into the author’s background context. I 100% agree that there is a critical place for this type of learning experience in a student’s education. With the increase of access to information it’s vital that people search for colliding perspectives. It would have been interesting to hear your thoughts about the impact of popular culture and social media in the research process- do you think it’s valid in research? Should we still apply the REAL framework… My housemate researches digital platforms and utilises these participatory spaces as evidence that shapes theory 🙂
    Thanks for sharing a great post!

    Like

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