Methods of Evaluation

  Home Page

Why Evaluate Web Information

 
Methods of Evaluation


Teaching Web Evaluation
Because of the lack of guidelines and monitoring, and the issues related to information (excessive amounts, absence of representation, mobility, and retrieval), and bias and objectivity matters, we must have strategies to evaluate the information found on the World Wide Web. There are a variety of methods of criteria to consider, ranging from personal, informal methods to the more educational, formal techniques. There is no one perfect method of evaluating information, rather "you must make an inference from a collection of clues or indicators, based on the use you plan to make of your source." ( Harris, R. ).

•External/Internal Criteria

External: As Dr. Nicholas Burbules suggested in the interview with Dr. Bertram Bruce and Barbara Duncan on credibility, external criteria refers to the who and where of information. In other words, who wrote the article and from where did it come? When we cannot evaluate the information itself, we can evaluate where it's coming from, and hope that those sources are credible. For example, if the author has a Ph.D. in his/her title, does this increase or decrease his/her credibility? Does this title increase your belief in their information provided, or does it decrease it? Did they include this title because otherwise they had no substantial proof of knowledge in that area/topic? These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself.

Internal: Internal criteria is using our own expertise, or independent knowledge, to determine if the information is accurate. Because everyone has an area in which they are proficient, when encountering information which contains inaccurate pieces of data, one would surmise that the site is not a credible source to gather information. As Robert Harris stated, this process involves asking, "Where this source discusses facts or ideas I already know something about, does the source agree or harmonize or does it conflict, exaggerate, or distort?" He reasons that "if a source is faulty where it discusses something you know, it is likely to be faulty in areas where you do not yet know, and you should therefore be cautious and skeptical about trusting it."

•Credibility Indicators

There are a multitude of indicators which you can use to evaluate a site. Some of the most common indicators mentioned in several sources are to look at the following:

Authorship: This is a major factor in considering the accuracy and credibility of information found on the Internet. Evaluating credentials of an author involves analyzing the educational background, past writings, expertise, and responsibility he/she has for the information. One should check the knowledge base, skills, or standards employed by the author in gathering and communicating the data. Obviously, when we look for information of critical value, we want to know the level of the authority with which he/she speaks. The most effective means of discovering the credibility of an author is to ask yourself the following questions:

•Has the content been reviewed, critiqued, or verified in any way?

•Is the author a well-known and well-regarded name you recognize?

•Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Do authoritative sites link to the page?

•What biographical information is available--author's position, address, and institutional or organizational affiliations? What are the basic values and goals of the institution or organization?

In addition to these questions, the University of Florida suggests utilizing reference books found in local libraries, such as Who's Who in America, Biography Indexes, company directories in the Business Reference collection, and publisher directories and biographical encyclopedia in Reference.

Links to and from a Resource: Dr. Nicholas Burbules and Thomas Callister, Jr. in their article, "Who Lives Here? Access to and Credibility Within Cyberspace," have identified another method of determining credibility. In their report, they discuss the transfer of credibility issue which exists when one person links to or cites another. They propose that the "web links that constitute the Internet is a vast network of relations of credibility: the people who establish active links to reliable information, and whose information or viewpoints are in turn identified and recommended by others, gain credibility both as users of information and as providers of it." Also noted here was the fact that there are many times when the author or agent of a particular piece of information cannot be identified; therefore, judgments of credibility rely upon the avenues through which the information was attained, the links others have made to the information, and the frequency with which the information has been accessed.

Publisher: The publisher of the document should be noted. Unlike print materials, Web pages do not have to go through a screening process in order to verify that it has met the standards or aims of the organization that serves as publisher. On the contrary, the publisher of Internet materials may simply be the server (computer) where the document lives. Therefore, there are a series of questions (taken from Elizabeth Kirk's, Evaluating Information Found on the Internet) to assess the role and authority of the "publisher," or server:

•Is the name of any organization given on the document you are reading? Are there headers, footers, or a distinctive watermark that show the document to be part of an official academic or scholarly Web site? Can you contact the Webmaster from this document?

•Can you link to a page where the above information is listed? Can you tell that it's on the same server and in the same directory (by looking at the URL)?

•Is this organization recognized in the field in which you are studying?

•Is this organization suitable to address the topic at hand?

•Can you ascertain the relationship of the author and the publisher/server? Was the document that you are viewing prepared as part of the author's professional duties within his/her expertise? Or is the relationship of a casual or for-fee nature, telling you nothing about the author's credentials within an institution?

•Can you verify the identity of the server where the document resides?

•Does the Web page actually reside in an individual's personal Internet account, rather than being part of an official Web site?

To check the validity of the publisher, Web databases, to which academic institutions often subscribe, are highly reliable. This information, along with information one can receive from government agencies, trade and professional associations, major universities, or research centers, can equip navigators with the necessary tools to evaluate publisher validity.

Date of Publication/Currency: Determining when the source was published is a necessary step in discerning a site's accuracy. It can usually be found at the bottom of the home page, and sometimes every page. Look to make sure the source is current or out-of-date for your specific topic. Topics which continually change or develop rapidly (sciences) require more current information. The reverse may also be true, if, perhaps, you were studying humanities. The following criteria, as given by Elizabeth Kirk, can be used to ascertain the timeliness of a document: 

•The article includes the date on which information was gathered.

•The document refers to clearly dated information.

•Where there is a need to add data or update it on a constant basis, the document includes information of the regularity of updates.

•The document includes a publication date or a "last updated" date.

•The document includes a date of copyright.

•If no date is given in an electronic document, you can view the directory in which it resides and read the date of latest modification.

Domain Types: This involves examining the end of the URL. For example, if the following domain types were found in the URL, you would be able to determine where the information came from: 
.gov is a U.S. government site

.mil is a U.S. military site

.edu is an accredited post-secondary educational institution

•.com is a commercial, for-profit entity

.org is a noncommercial, not-for-profit entity

.net is a computer network, particularly an Internet-related network

.int is an international organization

.jp, .ru, .ca, .au, etc. are country identifiers

(This listing was provided by the Close Up Foundation in their article entitled, " Untangling the Web: Tip Sheet. ")

In addition, Professor Geof Bowker (School of Library and Information Science), in his interview, noted that web sites are found to be more credible if the length of the URL is short and the end of the URL contains .edu, .gov, and .org, specifically. 

Site Format/Overall Design: Certain types of formats are more accessible on the Web, and are easier to use. When selecting first rate sites, a variety of qualities should be present. The information should be easy to find and use. The design should be appealing to its audience. The text should be easy to read, not muddled with distracting graphics, fonts, and backgrounds. The site should be well organized and easy to get around. The page should load in a reasonable amount of time and consistently be available. In addition, recognizing spelling errors, grammatical errors, and profanity will assist in evaluating Web site design. "A great site has personality and strength and character." ( ALSC Children and Technology Committee, Selection Criteria)

Purpose

Credibility issues are not only related to the material itself, but also to the reader's purpose. Therefore, another method of evaluating information is to consider the viewer's purpose for using the site. For instance, a viewer's purpose might be for their personal interest or for professional or educational reasons. A person viewing a site about another country, for example, may be looking at that site to plan a vacation. The purpose of locating and evaluating the information is personal. On the other hand, if the viewer is using the site for educational reasons, such as researching the government, economy, natural resources, etc. of this country, their purpose is quite different, and a different type of site would be necessary. Obviously, this information would need to be accurate and verified in several other types of sources. These two uses of the information, personal and professional/educational, are quite different and would make a difference in the evaluation of information.

•Tools

The evaluation tools that have been designed and used for centuries to evaluate traditional printed resources are not sufficient in assessing the credibility of material found on the Web due to the nature of this vast new medium. However, there are a variety of tools that have been designed to assist in the evaluation of Internet information. These include checklists, surveys or worksheets, as well as rubrics. The creators of these evaluation tools have utilized different credibility indicators, which are evaluated using the criteria that they have established. A few of the more useful evaluation tools include Kathy Schrock's surveys, Alexander and Tate's checklist, as well as the CARS checklist , which assesses the credibility, accuracy, reasonableness, and support presented within an Internet site. These tools are especially useful for educators in evaluating Web sites to be incorporated into their classrooms, as well as teaching evaluation criteria and critical thinking skills to their students prior to using the Internet.


Home Page
| Why Evaluate Web Information
| Methods of Evaluation| Teaching Web Evaluation

-----

Date Last Modified: 7/1/2002 by Kathy Hickey