Misericordia University TED 121 -- Educational Technology

Module 3: Research

EVALUATING ONLINE RESOURCES


Understanding the Problem

There is a wealth of materials available online. Information abounds! It used to be easy to determine the validity of materials before the Web went public in the early 1990's: if something was published in a book, it was assumed to be accurate and reliable. When publishing a book, many people are involved in the process beyond the author. There are editors, fact checkers, and proof readers. Consider the following:

  1. What are some of the challenges faced in evaluating the validity of online materials?

  2. What are some ways you might use to evaluate the validity of an online source?

Don't be taken! Read about online scams at the following sites:
  1. National Fraud Information Center
  2. QuackWatch.com
  3. ScamBusters.org

 

Trying to Search Out the Facts

What is a fact?

Finding definitive (factual) information.

Using Google, try to answer the following question:

What year did Gutenberg invent the printing press?

  • Did you come up with one definitive year?
  • If not, which source will you believe and why?

How do you determine quality?

When you are trying to determine which app to download, or which hotel to book into, you may view comments from many different users. Some people always like the product you are considering, some always completely despise it, and others fall into the middle. How do you sort through this information?

Dr. Steve recommends:

 

Problems of Quantity: Enough or Not Enough?

Another set of problems that arise as we enter into the Information Age deals with quantity. How much is enough? How do I know when I have researched enough? Have I learned everything I need to know on this topic? Typically many students ask, "How many sources do I have to use?" Other researchers ask, "Can I stop yet?" This places an increasingly larger burden on researchers because of the vast amounts of new material available electronically every year.

Using Google or a search engine of your choice, try to answer the following question:

How many cities named Dallas exist in the United States?

 

Anatomy of a URL: Finding Broken Links

URL.pptx: Download Dr. Steve's presentation on understanding URL's.

Before we consider how to evaluate online resources, let's understand a few quick points about how a URL is constructed. This information will help in evaluation of Web pages. A URL (uniform resource locator) is the Web address of a page. To navigate to a particular Web page, you enter the URL in the location bar of a Web browser. The following is the format for a URL:

http://www.servername.domain.countrycode/foldername/filename.html

(For comparison, the format for an e-mail address is: username@servername.domain)

Parts of a URL
http Refers to hypertext transfer protocol. Tells the Web browser that you are attempting to open a Web document composed in HTML (hypertext mark-up language).
://This punctuation is needed to separate the rest of the URL.
wwwIndicates that you are seeking to load information from the World Wide Web.
server nameServer name is the name of the computer where the Web page is stored.
domainDomain names are three-letter codes that differentiate differentiate different types of Web pages. For example: .com (commercial); .net (Internet service provider, also called an ISP); .edu (educational institution); .gov (government); .org (organization); .mil (military).
country codeCountry codes are two-letter codes that indicate which country the Web page originates from. For example: CA (Canada); CH (Switzerland); FR (France); JP (Japan); UK (United Kingdom/Great Britain).
foldernameThis is the name of a folder on the server in which files are stored, similar to the folders on your PC.
filename.htmlThis is the name of the Web page file, composed in HTML. If a filename is given a special reserved name, index.html, you do not have to type it to view it. This technique is used on most Web sites to reduce the amount of information you have to remember and type in.

  1. Many times you reach Web pages out of context when searching. The following hit was returned to you in a search. Where is it from? Backtrack through the folder names in the URL to learn more about the page. Would you use this page for scientific research?
    Research paper on Big Foot

  2. Web pages come and go. Sometimes during a search you will encounter broken links. Can you backtrack through the following broken links to locate a page you can view?
    1. http://users.misericordia.edu/ted121/seminar/notes.html

 

Quality: Toward a Solution

Probably the most serious problem of sorting through the vast amounts of data available deals with quality. Is this sound, good quality material? How can I tell? In working toward a solution, two researchers expanded on the generally accepted five traditional evaluation criteria, trying to bring these criteria up-to-date and appropriate for the Information Age.

Five Traditional Evaluation Criteria (Alexander & Tate, 1999):

  1. Accuracy
  2. Authority
  3. Objectivity
  4. Currency
  5. Coverage

In addition, the following are helpful online resources to assist in evaluating online resources:

 

Five Criteria for the Information Age (adapted from Alexander & Tate, 1999):


  1. Criterion #1: Authority
    • Problem:
      • What are the author's qualifications for writing on the subject?
      • How reputable is the publisher?
    • Facts:
      • Often difficult to determine authorship of Web resources.
      • If author's name listed, his/her qualifications frequently absent.
      • Publisher responsibility often not indicated.

  2. Criterion #2: Objectivity
    • Problem:
      • Is the information presented with a minimum of bias?
      • To what extent is the information trying to sway the opinion of the audience?
    • Facts:
      • Web often functions as a virtual soap box.
      • Goals/aims of persons or groups presenting material often not clearly stated.

  3. Criterion #3: Accuracy
    • Problem:
      • How reliable and free from error is the information?
      • Were any editors or fact checkers used to review the work before it was published?
    • Facts:
      • Almost anyone can publish on the Web.
      • Many Web resources not verified by editors and/or fact checkers.
      • Web standards to ensure accuracy not fully developed.

  4. Criterion #4: Currency
    • Problem:
      • Is the content of the work up-to-date?
      • Is the publication date clearly indicated?
    • Facts:
      • Dates not always included on Web pages.
      • If included, a date may have various meanings:
        1. Date first created
        2. Date placed on Web
        3. Date last revised

  5. Criterion #5: Coverage
    • Problem:
      • What topics are included in the work?
      • To what depth are topics explored?
    • Facts:
      • Web coverage may differ from print or other media coverage.
      • Often hard to determine extent of Web coverage.

 

Challenges of Web Resources (adapted from Alexander & Tate, 1996):


  • Challenge: Search engines can retrieve Web pages out of context.
    Strategy: Always try to return to the home page to determine the source of information.

  • Challenge: In other media, there usually are clear visual and/or audio distinctions between advertising and information. On the Web, distinctions between advertising and information can become extremely blurred.
    Strategy: Try to determine if advertising and informational content are supplied by the same person or organization.

  • Challenge: Web pages may move or disappear without notice.
    Strategy: Try to determine the stability of your source, and document source to the fullest extent possible.

  • Challenge: Web pages are susceptible to alteration (accidental or deliberate).
    Strategy: Attempt to verify information using other sources.

 

Summary: How Do You Tell a Quality Resource?

Evaluating electronic resources can be challenging. In general, ask the following questions?
  • Is the source authoritative? Who authored the page? Is the page on a reliable server (on an educational or governmental site vs. a commercial site)? Is it an information source or advertising?
  • Does the information appear to be accurate?
  • Doe the information appear to be objective? Is the site attempting to sway your opinion?
  • Does the information appear to be current?
  • Does it appear that the subject has received sufficient coverage? Are all sides of the subject/issue covered?

 

Putting It Into Practice

Are these sites for real???

Use the resources listed on this page to determine if the following sites are valid.

  1. Is the information provided at the following legal sites valid?
    1. DumbLaws.com

  2. Which one of the following is the real White House?
    1. Is this the White House?
    2. Or is this the White House?
  3. Can you trust the following news stories from GlossyNews.com?
    1. Story about Trump
    2. Story about Hillary

Which of the following Web sites are valid for use in a research paper about PDA's and why?

  1. Handhelds in the Classroom
  2. Dave's PDA Place

In gathering information for a health lesson on smoking, you searched and retrieved the hits listed below. Which of the following sites would you feel confident enough to use in preparing a lesson on this subject?

  1. Role of Media in Tobacco Control
  2. Why Is Smoking an Issue for Non-smokers?
  3. Why Do Public Health Advocates Lie about the Risks of Smoking?

In gathering information about the assassination of President Lincoln, you searched and retrieved the hits listed below. Which of the following sites would you feel confident enough to use in preparing a lesson on this subject?

  1. SeacoastNH.com Assassination Page
  2. R. J. Norton's Lincoln Assassination Page
  3. The Suppressed Truth about the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

You have to be careful! In gathering information about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you searched and retrieved the hits listed below. Both of the sites are .org's. Which of the following sites would you feel confident enough to use in preparing a lesson on this subject?

  1. MartinLutherKing.org
  2. TheKingCenter.org

 

When using online resources (Web pages) for use in a classroom presentation for your students or for research, be sure to evaluate the resource carefully! Ensure it is accurate, authoritative, objective, current, and that it sufficiently covers the topic.

 


JUMP TO ANOTHER TOPIC IN MODULE 3:
  Searching MU's library and online databases.
  Evaluating online resources.
  Course paper.
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