Web Evaluation: Does This Website Smell Funny to You?

One of my favorite things to work on with students in this area is website evaluation. They all have a very strong belief that they know how and where to find any information they need online. Almost all of my students arrive at my school with one simple rule for choosing online sources: Don’t use Wikipedia. This has been drilled into them by almost every teacher who has assigned them a research project. But beyond that, they tend to assume that if it’s online, it must be true. This reminded me how easy it is to overestimate our students’ abilities when it comes to technology. The general assumption is that they arrive in the world with an innate knowledge of how to operate all things digital. It’s not until you work with students that you begin to see how much guidance and instruction they really need. One of my favorite things to work on with students in this area is website evaluation. They all have a very strong belief that they know how and where to find any information they need online. Almost all of my students arrive at my school with one simple rule for choosing online sources: Don’t use Wikipedia. This has been drilled into them by almost every teacher who has assigned them a research project. But beyond that, they tend to assume that if it’s online, it must be true. When working with older students (8th through 12th grade), I’ve always relied on the CRAAP Test (pdf) from California State University Chico. And I will admit I enjoy starting a lesson by telling them, “Today’s class is going to be CRAAP-tastic” (especially if my supervisor is observing me for that class). As wonderful a tool as it is, the CRAAP Test has a sophistication (despite its name) that makes it inaccessible for the 5th through 7th grade. I wanted something easier for them. (Perhaps at this point I should pause to let you know that my school, while co-ed, is predominantly boys – they make up about 88% of our student population. And sometimes lesson planning is all about knowing your audience.) So in the middle school Information Skills class, we now teach the FART Test. Needless to say, when the idea is first introduced we lose about 5 minutes of class to giggles and various fart noises. But then we can get down to the serious business of evaluation. F: Is the site Friendly to the eyes? Is it easy to read? Did the creator take time to make a well designed website? Is the site free of lots of flashy things that distract you from the text? If someone doesn’t bother to present the information in a neat fashion, the information may not be worth using. A: Does the Author have Authority? Is he an expert on the issue? Does the author identify herself and give you a way to contact her and ask a question? If someone doesn’t bother to take credit for his work, that may be a sign that he doesn’t want to be connected to it. R: Is the information Repeated elsewhere? Does the author cite her sources so you can verify her information? If you find the most fascinating tidbit of information, but only one person claims to know it, and can’t tell you where she learned that, and no other source confirms it, it’s probably not a piece of information you want to use. T: Is the information Timely? When was the information published? Is your topic time sensitive? Has the website been updated recently? Old information doesn’t help with current issue research and websites that have been abandoned may not be the best sources. Finally, you have to ask yourself, does something smell bad about this site? The nice thing about the FART Test is that it pretty well slides in the CRAAP Test as the students get older. It’s something the students remember easily. Each year I start the year off by having the returning 8th grade students teach the concept to new students who have joined their class. They make posters to hang in the middle school classrooms as a reminder that web evaluation belongs everywhere, not just in the library. It’s a great refresher and an ice breaker. What fun lessons do you go to for web evaluation?

Developing Critical Literacies: What We Need to Know in a “Fake News” World

Paragraph Those of us who grew up in a pre-Internet...