Friday, April 2, 2010


Evaluate the credibility of information available online!

As an educator, I take my students to the computer lab to do research. As a graduate student, I frequently search for information to evidence my opinions and findings on assignments. The World Wide Web has become an integral part of finding up-to-date information, but one must also step back and evaluate the credibility of that information.

Educators are responsible for training students to become digitally-literate. Tasks include fine-tuning students’ skills to maximize their Internet research, how to evaluate sites, and how to keep themselves safe. By effectively helping them to find, sort and evaluate information from the internet, we empower students to develop critical thinking skills and thus be responsible for establishing the credibility of sources. “As the first generation to grow up with interactive digital media, millennials are comfortable with collaborating and sharing information, and do so ‘in ways that allow them to act quickly and without top-down direction.’ This, of course, has profound implications for credibility construction and assessment (Flanagin & & Metzger 2008.)”

First things first, teachers themselves need to learn new research skills. Aims should include:
– Being able to differentiate between the different types of sources.
– Being willing to look “further” for sources (strategies.)
– Being able to translate that into student expectations.
Teachers ought to teach students how to be strategic, not random, in their internet searches. From there, after they retrieve quality information, students will be able to synthesize the information, which leads to power and success.

First, educators should discriminate between quality and popularity of a website. “In fact, most search engines, including Google, determine the “quality” and “relevance” of sites using a “link-popularity” metric. This metric selects which Web sites to display and the order in which to display them on the search results page based on how many other sites link to a site. Consequently, more popular pages are selected and are displayed higher in the search results. Because few people go beyond the first few pages of the search output, however, ‘even if a page is of high quality, the page may be completely ignored by Web users simply because its current popularity is very low.’ This kind of a system sets up a sort of “popularity equals credibility” heuristic that could be dangerous or at least disadvantageous to students’ learning (Lankes 2008).

Educators can extend their resources by collaborating with school Media Specialists who can assist the teacher to provide direction for student research projects. For example, media specialists can create links on the school website to enable students to connect to academic-use-subscription- databases. Databases are fantastic resources for academic assignments, and act much like electronic textbooks.

To ensure success, teachers also need to plan projects effectively in advance and in an organized manner, as to easily outline expectations for the students. Require students to have a “balance of sources” when it comes to research in order to differentiate the knowledge base.

Now, let’s get “real!”
REAL is a four-step process by which educators can teach students to help them validate web materials. Teachers should train students to mentally ask themselves these questions in an effort to figure out authenticity of Web sites.

R Read the URL
E Examine the Content
A Ask about the Author & Owner
L Look at the links

1. R: Read the URL – gives a quick view of how Web pages are organized within that site. Look at the domain name and the extensions.
2. E: Examine the Content – Does the site offer useful information? Is the site current, and do the links work? Does the information contradict information you found elsewhere?
3. A: Ask about the Author & Owner – Are the author’s name, address, biography, and credentials listed? Do a separate search on the author and see what comes up.
4. L: Look at the links – Evaluate bias or quality of information by checking forward links and back links. Forward links should take you to universities, museums, or government research sites. If the domain names don’t change, the pattern might suggest bias (November 2008).

On a side note, it is sometimes difficult to sort through internet applications because one does not understand the background vocabulary. Here is my official Cheat-Sheet as assistance:

blogs – an interactive Web page where persons can post anything, and ask others to join conversations (Ex.: )
directory – searchable indexes where people compile collections of resources (Ex.: Yahoo!)
domain – the name of a website, that is comprised of two to three components (Ex.:
extension – part of a web address that indicates what type of establishment owns the domain (Ex.: .org)
home page – the index of a website that usually links to further information
Internet – network of many different computers from all over the world connected to each other
IP addresses – (Internet protocol addresses) that are written in numeric form (Ex.: 727.36.100.10)
link – a connection that navigates a user to a related source of information (forward links, back links)
podcasts – audio or video files that can be downloaded into a mobile music player
Search engine – programs that collect information about World Wide Web content; results are sent back as pages of links. (ex.: Google Web Search)
URL – Uniform Resource Locator, also known as a web address (Ex.:
Web browser – a computer program that lets you browse the Internet for information (Ex.: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari)

Resources available:

AltaVista is a search engine that comes highly recommended. (Web Literacy for Educators. Alan November. 2008.) Teachers can tailor effective searches with the host: command and the url: command within AltaVista. Strategic commands in search boxes can yield positive results for students. For example, sites with a .edu or .gov extension are highly reliable, because the sites can only be maintained by educational institutions or government organizations.

1. Click on
2. In the search window, type host:gov + _________
In the blank, type in some key words (example: host:gov + Mexico + liberation + Spain)
3. Try adding titles of specific people, authors, etc. to retrieve the information you were seeking.

Within AltaVista, you can search trusted educational sites, and again add key words and phrases to receive quality results. Some examples are DiscoverySchool (; National Geographic (; and the U.S. National Archives ( )

1. In AltaVista, type host: plus the domain name of the educational site.
2. You can add to the above with more key words. (example: + Costa Rica + monkey + howler)

Another option for effective searching within a large site is to create a “virtual index” which is a quick list of Web pages with the same root domain. By refining your index, you can organize it to suit your needs.

1. In the AltaVista search box, type host: plus the domain name of the educational site.
2. Use the plus sign to add key words, leaving “spaces” on both sides.
3. You can add to the above by putting key words and phrases in quotation marks. (example: + Costa Rica + monkey + howler + “diet”)

AltaVista is not the only search engine that we recommend. You can also try ; ; ; and among others.

New to me!

In my research to develop a plan to evaluate credibility, I learned many new things that I would like to share. Did you know that…

• search engines only search within their own databases?
• there are better academic search engines than Google?
• people can bid on keyword search terms?
• Google produces different search results in different countries?
• REAL is an acronym to make the task of validation easier for teachers and students alike?
• there are clues to look for after the backslashes in a URL to determine if a Web page might be a personal page, such as the % and ~ symbols?
• checking for author and ownership of a Website is a good way to validate authenticity?
• one can use the “Wayback Machine” to validate internet information?
• evaluating links (forward links and backward links) can help with validation of quality information, because it provides relevant cross-referencing information?
• there is (good) reasoning behind searching smart by using extensions and host: commands?
• when teachers create a virtual index, students can pinpoint particular pages and resources?

If you have any other great resources to share, please comment and let me know. Happy smart-searching!

Representing Myself Online

By the nature of online mediums, one must define oneself. Unlike face-to-face encounters where one interacts through oral communication, a person in an online network shapes his/her identity by what and how he/she writes. For example, on social networks, through reflection on topics of interest, communication of personal anecdotes, or even uploading of particular pictures, one portrays personality and preferences.

I personally belong to various social networks on Ning, but I have never started a page on Facebook or MySpace. My online identity has been limited to my professional development, whether interacting with like-minded colleagues on the World Wide Web, with colleagues in my graduate study courses, or with my students on private classroom Spanish-only educational sites. I do plan to venture into some new virtual gaming worlds this semester, but again plan on the experience being for professional purposes only. Having been a private and Catholic school educator for 14 years, I am wary about exposing myself online when it comes to a social nature. This probably has benefited me, as I take care to remain private, conscientious and guarded when it comes to my involvement online. However, I do experiment with a variety of Web 2.0 tools, and have reached the conclusion that with proper and planned use, individuals can utilize the internet to benefit their academic learning.


Flanagin, A. & Metzger, M. (2008). Digital Media and Youth: Unparalleled Opportunity and Unprecedented Responsibility. Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility. Edited by Metzger and Flanagin. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 5–28.

Lankes, R. D. (2008). Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools. DigitalMedia, Youth, and Credibility. Edited by Metzger and Flanagin. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

November, A. (2008). Web Literacy for Educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

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