Teaching Critical Evaluation Skills for World Wide Web Resources
Tate, Marsha, Alexander, Jane, Computers in Libraries
The World Wide Web's accessibility and ease of use have encouraged a proliferation of Web resources on almost every imaginable topic. Due to die wealth of information available, the Web is becoming a widely used research tool. However, one major problem associated with Web-based research is how to determine the quality of information found on the Web. This problem has intensified as more and more resources are placed and distributed on the Web without editors and fact checkers (the traditional gatekeepers for print publications) monitoring them to assure quality. In the future this problem will only intensify further as increasing numbers of individuals publish material on the Web.
Given the extremely uneven quality of material on the Web, it is critical that Web users learn how to evaluate the material they find. As librarians, we are in a unique position to teach these skills because of our extensive experience in evaluating the quality of a wide variety of materials, and the fact that so many of us are involved in Internet training. [Editor's Note: For an additional discussion of Web resource evaluation, see Scott Brandt's techman's techPage column, "Evaluating Information on the Internet," on page 44 of the May 1996 issue of CIL.]
To help users of the Web gain the critical thinking skills they need to successfully evaluate Web resources, we have developed the three-part lesson plan presented in this article.
Lesson Plan Summary
Part One provides the background information needed to critically evaluate sources and includes examples that show how to evaluate both print and Web-based information. Part Two introduces a practical approach to evaluating Web resources based on the concept of page-specific checklists. Part Three requires users to practice evaluating Web pages using the page-specific checklists.
We developed this lesson plan for use with undergraduate students, but the strategy can be readily adapted to other user groups of varying ages and with varying research interests. The lesson can be taught in a one-day session or expanded to cover a series of classes spanning several weeks. The ideal instructional setting allows participants to have hands-on access to the Web, although the instructor may illustrate Web page examples to the group in situations where hands-on experience is not available. We recommend using Web page examples related to the interests of those being taught, but any examples that effectively illustrate the points are sufficient.
Additional information can be found on a set of Web pages entitled Evaluation of Web Resources. These pages are referred to throughout this article and can be accessed by following the Wolfgram Memorial Library link found on the Widener University Web page (http://www.widener.edu).
Part One of the lesson plan provides participants with the foundation they will need to successfully evaluate Web-based resources. Although the main focus of the lesson is on evaluating Web resources, the lesson begins with a review of traditional print evaluation techniques. This approach serves two purposes. First, because users are familiar with print sources and presumably already know some of the techniques traditionally used to evaluate them, the lesson begins with what they already know and builds upon that experience. Second, although Web technology is new and, in many instances, more complex than its print predecessor, many of the criteria used to evaluate print resources can still be successfully adapted to the evaluation of Web resources.
We created a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation to convey the concepts covered in Part One of the lesson. It is available for viewing at the Web site mentioned above.
Part One of the lesson begins with a review of five criteria traditionally used to evaluate print resources:
1. Accuracy. How reliable and error-free is the information? …