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handsStudents, teachers, and librarians need skills in evaluating, selecting, and integrating Internet resources into their classroom projects. There are many sites that can help you learn to critically evaluate web resources.

Read the following materials related to selection of web resources for children and young adults on this page: Getting Started, Website Evaluation, and Website Selection for Educators.

 

Getting Started

Start with the Teacher Tap: Evaluating Educational Resources page. It provides links to many of the most popular critical evaluation resources. For example, Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators contains evaluation forms for elementary, middle school, and high school levels. For fun, try some of the “fake” websites to show students how easy it is for anyone to create a “important looking” website. The Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division is an example.

CyberGuides also provide checklists for evaluation of web sites. Compare and contrast the selection criteria at different sites and use this information to create your own evaluation checklist.

 

Website Evaluation

With thousands of web pages available on every topic imaginable, how do you decide which are best for your classroom? Careful evaluation is the key. You don’t need thirty web pages for a project. In most cases, you need to find three sites that contain accurate, useful information. Library/media specialists have always done a great job evaluating materials for the school media center. The selection criteria used for evaluating books and videos can be applied to Internet resources and expanded to focus on some of the unique aspects of web materials. Let’s explore some key issues in selecting web sites for your classroom.

Goal of Site

Consider the purpose of the site. Is the goal stated? Is the mission served? Does the site possess literary, artistic, or social value? Does the goal match your needs? Consider the Nine Planets site. It states that the site was designed for nontechnical people who are interested in basic information about our solar system. It’s a great kid’s site.

Appropriateness of Site

Think about the grade level and ability level of your student. Is the site focused at an appropriate reading level? Is the site free of inappropriate language or graphics? Is any bias or opinion easy for students to identify and discuss? Does the site foster respect for all people including women, minorities, ethnic groups, disabled, and aged? Does the site reflect a culturally diverse, pluralistic society? Does the site reflect global awareness? Given the maturity of your students, can they "handle" the content of this site?

Accuracy

The quality of information is critical. Is the information credible? Is the information fact or opinion? Is supporting material provided? Are associated links provided? Do the links work? Is a web master listed? Can this person be contacted? Is the site well-maintained and frequently updated? Are comments requested? These are things that can help you make a decision about accuracy. For example, if the site originates at a Presidential Library and is frequently updated, it is probably more reliable than a site sponsored by an individual without any special skills or resources. If I were looking for information on Elvis Presley, I’d go straight to the official site in Graceland rather than the “Recent Elvis Sightings” page.

Scope & Sequence of Content

Examine the scope and sequence of information. Is the content well-organized? Is the breathe of coverage appropriate? Is information presented in a logical order? For example, if you’re interested in worms, WormWorld is the place to go! It contains information on each type of worm including pictures, sounds, and video. There are even worm poems available.

Depth of Content

Consider the depth of the content. Is the site thorough? Are links provided for expansion? Are they good? Is the site complete? Does the site provide "real-world" applications? If your students are studying business, the Internet is an excellent tool. Rather than reading dated information from a textbook, students can track the current status of any company from Apple Computer to Burger King using resources such as the CNN Money. This resource provides annual reports, statistics, graphs, and charts.

Screen Design

Another important consideration is screen design. If the lettering is too small or the background too cluttered, the page will be hard to use. Ask yourself: Are elements such as navigation tools consistent? Are functional areas provided so you can consistently find the same link options in the same place on the page? Do backgrounds and animations contribute rather than distract? Are the font styles and sizes easy to read? Are graphics large enough to see? Are graphics small enough to load fast?

Aesthetics

Web pages should have interest and appeal. Is the site easy to use? Does the site have visual appeal? Are the graphics worth the wait? Is the site of interest to the imagination, senses, and intellect? Is the site interesting, stimulating, and engaging? Is the site thought provoking? Some of the best websites are those created by students as part of the ThinkQuest project.

Technical Aspects

Explore the technical aspects of each page. Does the site run without error? Are directions provided for downloads? Does loading take a reasonable amount of time? Do most browsers work with the site? Is a text-only option provided? Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good. Discovery Channel’s Science Fair Central page often loads slowly, but it is easy to use and has the option to choose from a menu or do a keyword search.

Accessibility

Examine the site for ease of access. Is the site available and easily loaded? Is the site restricted through password or subscriptions? For example, Journey North is a popular project for children tracking the migration of the monarch butterfly. There are different levels of involvement with the project. People can join for free or pay a subscription fee for additional resources and levels of access and involvement.

Navigation

Consider the ease of movement within the site. Is it easy to move between pages? Could you easily return to previous parts of the site? Is an easy-to-use table of contents or index provided? Were links clearly described? Were page lengths kept short to limit options and confusion? The National Gallery of Art uses the layout of the sculpture garden as an easy to follow guide through the site.

Real-World Applications

Consider whether the site contains authentic resources. Does it blend theory and practice? Are there real-world applications of the information? Is the content relevant? Is the site fun? Let’s say you’ve just completed a unit on botany. Students have learned about the parts of the plant and how plants grow. You might take them to Kid’s Garden Tour to connect botany with gardening.

Mediums

Explore the channels of communication represented in the web site. Does it contain text, graphics, photos, maps, charts, tables, timelines, historical documents, audio, video, and animation? Do you need varied channels of communication for your topic? For example if you’re studying the anatomy of a human body, a human body simulation.

Go to Postcards from Teacher Tap for lots of e-card websites where adults and children can create and send electronic postcards that contain sound and animation.
Finally, as you evaluate websites look for what’s practical. Sometimes a simple website has quality information. Look beyond the flashy entry page and consider content first.

Look for variety:

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Website Selection for Educators

As you select sites for use in your curriculum, be realistic and practical. Do you really need the Internet? Would other resources work faster or better? Why the Internet? For example using the Internet version of the dictionary can be a waste of time unless you have a computer nearby. If you need to look up the word frog, why not just use the old fashioned paper dictionary? On the other hand, if you’re looking for the sounds of frogs and pictures of frogs from around the world then the Internet is a logical choice. The Froggy site provides everything a student would need for a frog project.

On the other hand, there are many practical reference resources on the Internet. The Library Spot provides a good starting point for online references such as language dictionaries, global yellow pages, almanacs, conversion tables, and other useful information. Teacher Tap: Online Reference Materials also has some great reference links.

Select only quality information resources. With thousands of choices, pick only the best. If it's not good, don't use it. Ask yourself: Does it fit your curriculum? Does it meet student needs? Is it written at the right level for your students? For example, the Windows to the Universe website site would be too difficult for younger children, but just right for middle school.

Consider the reading level of your students. If they can't read it, don't use it. Are students skimming or reading? Are the illustrations helpful? What are students doing with the information? Ask students to use the “five finger rule” of reading and web sites. As they read through a site, they should hold up a finger for each word they don’t know. If they reach five fingers before the end of a page, the site may be too difficult. Although students may be able to use the pictures or videos, the text may be beyond their comprehension. Check out the Enchanted Learning website also known as Zoom School. This website is popular with teachers seeking good content at an easier reading level than most websites.

Match the interest level of your children with the Internet site. Internet should be motivating. Can Internet bring added interest and excitement to a topic? Can you match student interests with Internet resources? For example if you’re beginning a unit on biographies, read about athletes at Sports Illustrated for Kids.

Compare the maturation level of your students with the information in each site. Most Internet resources are written for adults. Is the information written at your level? Is inappropriate information included? Is it "over" their heads?

Select timely topics for your activities on the Internet. Use Internet for "one-shot" timely topics such as an election or the Olympics. The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race. Many classes read a book such as Dog Song or Stone Fox as they follow the race live on the web.

Internet is best for current information not available in other formats such as the latest economic, weather, and human conflict news. The Teacher Tap: News Resources page provides links to lots of current events information for both students and teens around the global. You can find out about conflicts in places like South America and Africa that are often ignored in North American newspapers.

Internet provides first-hand information not available elsewhere such as primary materials, historic documents, real data, and personal interviews. The National Archives Documents site provides the entire document, not just an excerpt, which is often the case with a textbook. The use of authentic documents such as letters, diaries, and journals is becoming increasingly popular in schools. The National Archives has an online Digital Classroom that contains primary source materials and lots of great lesson ideas.

Steven’s Institute of Technology is a great source for links to primary sources and real-time data sites.

The Internet is overwhelming. Help students narrow their topic by providing starting places. The Democracy Project is an excellent example of this type of guidance. This page provides an overview of the project, specific tasks, and links to resources needed to complete activities.

Help students focus on relevant information by providing evaluation tools, lists of sample sites, keywords, and leading questions.

Even without a networked classroom computer, you can use Internet resources. Consider printing out activities. They can be laminated or placed in notebooks.

Use the Internet for remediation and challenge. There are many websites where students can practice their basic skills. Teachers can develop and post quizzes or use one of the thousands of quizzes already available at websites uch as FunBrain.

Selection Guidelines


Adapted with permission from Chapter 5 in Lamb, A. (2006). Building Treehouses for Learning: Technology in Today's Classroom, Fourth Edition.

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