|The following article was originally published in Meridian, an educational online journal published by North Carolina State University and the Media Literacy Center online journal of Canada.|
Evaluating Internet-based Information:
A Goals-based Approach
David F. Warlick
|This kind of scenario has many educators concerned about
using of the Internet as a reliable resource for academic information. The
fact is that almost anyone can now publish on the Internet, while only a
few years ago, nearly everything that you read was filtered by editors and
presented based at least on its economic value if not for its scholarly worth.
Today, anyone with an axe to grind can do so over the Internet and with a
look of authority. At the same time the Internet is increasingly becoming
the first and preferred source of information for many of us.
In response to this concern and the scenario above, I believe that the presence of inaccurate and biased information on the Internet is not our primary problem. The information and points of view have not really changed, it is the tools that have changed. Today, our students use professional and sophisticated information tools and global electronic networks to complete their assignments while most of us used pencil and paper and the information resources that existed in our school library. While we did our work with what could be compared to a $12 box of Lincoln Logs, students today have at their disposal professional tools and virtually limitless materials, as if they have an entire Builder's Supply warehouse to work from. While we assembled our reports with children's building blocks, today's students can craft their information products with word processors, enrich them with multimedia mined from the Internet, and empower them with hypertext. Their work can be compelling and it can be published to a global community.
The real problem with the scenario above is the assignment. The problem is that we are still, by and large, giving Lincoln Log assignments -- "Write a report about the Holocaust." These advanced and powerful capabilities that are increasingly available to our students beg for a different kind of assignment. Writing a report about something has as its goal the demonstration of gained knowledge. Yet gaining knowledge becomes only a small part of what students should be learning to prepare them for a world where knowledge changes and information grows at dizzying speeds. In fact, in the information world, their jobs will be to help in growing knowledge by becoming information builders.
From the perspective of the builder, our students have aisles of information processing tools to choose from and an Internet warehouse from which to choose building materials. The difference is that the builder, in the middle of Builder's Supply, has a task or project in mind, something that he or she plans to build for the enjoyment and convenience of thers. Our builder has a goal behind his or her selections of tools, lumber, and nails.
Likewise, as students browse through the Internet, looking for information raw materials, they to should have goals for their work. The difference between "Lincoln Log" assignments and what students should be doing today, is that our young high school junior should have had a goal for her report beyond that of just earning a grade. Because she can produce such impressive work and it can potentially be published for others to see and use, her goal should be behavioral. Students should be building their information products to affect impressions, decisions, beliefs, support or defeat positions, or create new knowledge.
Goals-based projects have a variety of benefits:
|Goals-Based Evaluation||What do goals-based assignments have to do with evaluating
Internet resources? Let's return to the builder's analogy. One of the many
things that my father taught me is that when you are building something in
the workshop, the number one key to success is using the appropriate tools
and materials. Walk into any "Builder's Supply," and you have a virtual Internet
of tools and building materials available to you. As you examine them
individually, they are not judged as good or bad, but simply appropriate
or inappropriate for specific building projects. Our task, as the shopper,
is to select the tools and materials that are appropriate to our goals.
Traditionally, Internet resources have been evaluated from the perspective of the information itself and it's source. This usually involves some type of checklist that puts all Internet information through the same sieve, evaluating each based on the same criteria. Here is part a checklist that I developed several months ago after reviewing some of the many evaluation forms available on the Internet.
It is implied that if you end up with a sufficient number of "Yes" checks, then the information is good and you use it. If not, then the information is bad and you never use it. Some of these evaluation forms can be quite long and picky, asking researchers to check spelling and grammar. But the result is the same. The resources is either stamped "Good" or "Bad," and this approval has little to do with the work that the student is doing.
As students' information products should be based on teacher or student established goals, evaluating the material that they consider using in their products should also be goals-oriented. Rather than judging the material based solely on itself via an examination instrument that has nothing to do with the students work, it should be judged from the perspective of what the student wants to accomplish.
From this standpoint, we would not ask, "Is the author qualified?", but, "What aspects of the author's background help me accomplish my goal?" Under certain circumstances, a web page published by a neo-nazi organization might actually be appropriate for an assignment, while other resources, produced by people with credential would not. It depends on what the student wants to accomplish.
This approach actually serves three interesting purposes.
|Information about the Information||The second benefit is of particular interest as Internet-based
information meets with increasing suspicion. In the print-based world, it
is only necessary to mention the author's name and a vague reference to the
source. "John Robinson said in his book, Acres of Sound, that
This plus a standard citation placed at the bottom of the page or in the
bibliography alone is sufficient to render the information fact.
This will not be enough justification for information gathered from the wild Internet. Other rationale will be needed which might read like this:
John Robinson, in his twelve month research at the University of Hawaii on the influences of motor sounds on the navigation of sea mammals , states that
This more elaborate explanation of the information's source lends it credibility when a mere URL would not. Therefore, part of the evaluation process should be to identify and collect this sort of supporting information about the information, as justification.
|Internet Evaluation Form||The form below has been created to help students evaluate Internet resources
based on the goal(s) of their work. It begins with a statement of the student's
goals, and then follows through with the collection of specific information
with explanations of how the information supports the resource in terms of
the student's goals.
Another assumption provides an additional basis for this form. As students are researching the Internet, we might safely assume that they are using a computer. Therefore, they should also be using a computer-based form for their evaluation and collection of information. This form is designed to be used as a computer file. The student will come to the computer with a disk, and will complete the form by typing their information into the appropriate spaces or by copying and pasting the information with the Edit menu.
The form that follows is available in three formats, Microsoft Word97 for Windows, Rich Text Format (RTF) for importing into other word processors and operating systems, and text for computers will limited memory where only NotePad or SimpleText can be run along with the browser.
This form is now available as a web form. The researcher completes the form on the web and then presses the submit button. A web page is then generated that displays all of the information entered by the researcher. It also e-mails to you a digital version of the information.
|Conclusion||The Industrial Age has resulted in a glut of manufactured products that
find their way onto our store shelves, mail order catalogs, and into our
homes. We see them and purchase them because they have value to us in some
way. When I took shop in 1966, we learned the skill of producing items of
wood and steel, but the items that we produced had value to us or to family
members. They were built to be used. In the Information Age, information
will be the commodity. Our world will be rich with it, and information will
compete with other information to be used in ways not dissimilar to the
competition among automobiles and washing machines.
Therefore, in the same way that the chess boards, and book shelves that we built in shop had goals of value that created context for the skills we were learning, the information products that students create today should also have goals of value and lend context to their learning.
Assignments should include: