This week in my digital history class we are discussing web site evaluation. In previous classes we talked about html editors, briefly played around in Microsoft FrontPage, and talked about basic wesite creation. This week we are discussing how to evaluate a website from an information literacy viewpoint. I had them look at several websites that discussed how to evaluate websites, from a historian’s point of view. These sites included:
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- Thinking Critically about WWW Resources
- Reference Shelf: Evaluating Online Resources
- Historians and the Web: A Beginner’s Guide (AHA)
- Evaluating Websites (Public History Resource Center)
As we talked (it is a pretty informal class since each section is only 8 people) it became clear that the students were aware of most of the points I wanted to make. One area that they have problems with though, is evaluating the accuracy of websites. As one student asked me, "But if we are looking for information – how can we possibly know what is wrong or inaccurate?" I think this is an important problem in most students’ research efforts, not just on the web but also in the library. It looks to me like they find one, or at most two sources, and then write their research paper from it. If the assignment calls for a minimum number of sources, I suspect the students rely on one source and then sprinkle in the other sources only in an effort to meet the requirements of the assignment. The related problem to this is that students still believe everything they read on the web, or in a book or article. I tried stressing to them that an important part of information literacy is evaluating your sources to determine their value, based on the criteria we discussed today.
Their homework assignment this week is to read through the websites above and then take the 10 websites they found for me a couple of weeks ago and evaluate them by giving the websites some sort of score, based on any scale the students want to create. Then they need to visit the Public History Resource Center Rating System webpage and use this criteria for evaluating the 10 sites and see how the 2 scores compare. I asked them to make sure to do their personal scoring system first to ensure that they were not influenced by the Public History Resource Center System.