A discussion thread on website evaluation popped up on a listserv for librarians that I’m on. This was absolutely perfect because I’ve been teaching website evaluation to my seventh graders as part of the computer basics unit for my course.
After years of searching for and experimenting with different website evaluation systems/acronyms with my seventh graders, I’ve become convinced that 12 year old human beings are incapable of evaluating websites well. 12 years on the Earth is just not enough time to develop the knowledge base and world view necessary to be “good” at evaluating websites.
In this context, we talk with kids about the difference between finding “good enough” information for unimportant or entertainment purposes and doing “real research” on a topic.
Understanding that seventh graders cannot evaluate websites with any reasonable success and many years of failure at trying, we have elected to try a different approach altogether. Rather than teaching one system/acronym to our seventh graders, what we’re trying to do this year is have them look at a different evaluation methods developed by other people:
Each student or group of students looks at the qualities of a website that others’ suggest they consider as part of the evaluation process and come up with a list of 5-8 questions that they will ask themselves each time they go to a new website. Based on their list of questions, they then rank order 4 sites on the same topic and develop rationale for their rankings.
I’ve been looking over drafts of my students’ rankings and at first blush, my kids’ ranking are NOT the rankings that I, as a librarian, would use, but that isn’t the point–I was pretty sure going in that they were not going to be …
The point of the whole lesson was to start a discussion and use it as way for us to help seventh graders think more like librarians than they did yesterday. We teach this lesson in the context that when possible, info from a website should be used along with info from print or subscription databases and applied to the “rule of 3″ as it is taught in a great lesson called Detecting Lies and Staying True from Google Education. Today we will look at their rankings and they will have to defend their rationale. As part of the process, I’ll introduce some extra techniques that they can use to assist them in the website evaluation task: dissecting URLs, link searching in Google, searching Google for author information …
The reality is that at the end of the unit, my seventh graders probably won’t a whole lot better at picking great websites, but they’ll a bit further down the road toward information literacy than when we started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is information literacy …