Students no longer look to the library or newspaper for information on current events; instead their primary information source is now online (Street, 2005). However, according to the publication, Academic Literacy: A Statement of Competencies Expected of Students Entering California’s Public Colleges and Universities (2002), a significant number of students lack the ability to evaluate online resources critically, despite being familiar with more common technological elements such as e-mail and social media. Educators hence have the responsibility to help students evaluate whether information sources are reliable or verifiable.
First, students should consider the context and view point of the author (Doyle, 1992). For example, students should reflect on who the author is and their purpose for writing and publishing the information. That is, students need to consider the author’s expertise and background. Gathering information from an Andrew Bolt news article, as opposed to an article from the Conversation is vastly different. On one hand, Andrew Bolt presents information from only one perspective i.e. a conservative perspective, whilst the Conversation presents multiple viewpoints on a particular issue. An example is Andrew Bolt’s stance on climate change,
Following from this, objectivity is another consideration; that is, students should be taught to reflect on whether or not the information presented is biased (Street, 2005). Bias can be discerned as opinions rather than facts, or a lack of differing perspectives on a particular area. Additionally, teachers should alert students to the possible role of sponsorship and how it may alter a perspective of some information. For example, Financial Post is sponsored by GE, hence many articles are focussed on GE’s content discovery in the energy, robotics and 3D printing areas.
Additionally, timeliness, another important aspect, refers to whether the information is current (Street, 2005). For some topics such as anatomy or physiology, since the human body has not markedly evolved, information from the early 20thcentury can still be considered relevant and accurate. On the other hand, for topics such as technology or computer coding, information from as recent as three years can already be considered obsolete or inaccurate. Hence, teachers should guide students to discern what topics require information to be current, as well as alert them to the fact that publishing date is extremely important in any information gathering process.
Doyle, C. S. (1992). Outcome measures for information literacy within the national education goals of 1990. Final report to the National Forum on Information Literacy Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED351033
Street, C. (2005). Tech talk for Social Studies Teachers: Evaluating Online Resources – The Importance of Critical Reading Environments. Social Studies, 96(6), 271-273.