Although I am a big fan of encouraging students to begin any research project with curated resources such as the online databases at a school or public library, I know that many learners head straight for Google.
When students make garden-variety searches on Google, teach them to investigate and ask questions about what they find, especially if they are planning to use a website to learn more about a topic. The strongest 21st Century learners will make the process of asking evaluative questions second nature — examining each and every site before deciding whether or not to use the information.
Questions to Ask About Any Digital Resource
1. Who made the site? Is it from a university or other educational institution? Is the site for-profit or non-profit? Corporate? Look for an about link that provides more information and describes the site.
2. When was the site made and how often is it updated? Somewhere, usually at top or bottom it should tell. It should be easy to find. If not this may be a reason to check out another website on your topic.
3. Is it possible to contact the webmaster or the sponsor of the site? Is there a “contact us” link somewhere on the page?
4. How much advertising is on the page, and how aggressive is it? Good sites that also use advertising are careful to keep it from being “in your face.”
5. Does the site state its mission? Why was it set up?
6. Does the site have biographical information about content authors? In today’s world it is wise to know a bit about the expertise of an author, because in the online world anyone can write anything about a topic. Are the writers qualified explain content on the subject?
7. How much of the site has significant content and how much focuses on opinion? If you are searching for facts on a topic, avoid sites that focus on opinions.
8. Can you look at a similar site and confirm the information? It is always wise to find a second and even a third site that confirms the facts that you plan to use.
9. Does the site have references, links, or footnotes? Do the authors say where the information came from? Do links connect to web sites with other good sources of information?
10. Is the site easy to use? On good websites navigation is easy. Can you get to the information you are seeking with just a few clicks? Can you return to the first page easily?
I like the idea in this post, Teaching Kids to Curate Content Collections, which promotes the ideas of students becoming curators (just like in a museum) of the content they plan to use.