My daughter’s class have been doing a geography project on Europe and as part of the project work, were asked to find information about different countries on the Wikipedia. Of course, I cornered my eleven-year-old daughter:

“Do you know who writes the Wikipedia?”
“No.”
“Did you know that anyone can edit it?”
“No.”

Right. I couldn’t help myself but had to ask the teacher whether they had discussed the differences between different websites and, in particular, how the Wikipedia is written. So now I’ve been invited to come and talk with the kids about evaluating web sources.

I’ve done this with students, and seen lots of great lesson plans for helping students work with critically assessing web sites. But I’m finding a lot less for young kids – these are eleven and twelve year olds, not college students. I’m entirely convinced they should start learning how to figure out whether or not information they find online is likely to be trustworthy, but what are good examples? And of course, to complicate matters, I need Norwegian examples. I’ve been collecting links to some pretty good Norwegian sites on kildekritikk or critical evaluation of websites, but they’re all intended for older students.

So far, here are my thoughts:
1. I really do want to explain that the Wikipedia is made by anyone who’s interested and not by experts, as old encyclopedias were. I don’t think I’ll show them how to actually edit it (do we really want eleven-year-olds experimenting with that? not quite yet, I think) but I’ll show them the history page and the discussion pages.

2. I think the most basic thing about evaluation the trustworthiness of information is being aware of who published or wrote it. So I want to talk about how to figure out who the sender is – is it clear who the author is? Is it an institution or a company that you already know, like Disney.com or like your school? Maybe it’s a newspaper or the site for a textbook? What ways do sites tell you who the author is? And how does the URL help you confirm what a site is? (What does the .no mean? What can you be sure of if the URL ends in skole.no?)

3. The next steps in most of the checklists is figuring out whether the site is serious (design, orthography, do links work), what the motive for publishing is (educational, propaganda, advertising? is it likely to be objective?), who links to the site, etc etc. I think this might be too much for the first 30-45 minutes eleven-year-olds have been asked to even think about these things, though?

4. I really want to show them an example of an UN-trustworthy website. For older kids, a site like vigrid.no might work – it’s a Norwegian neo-nazi and holocaust-denial site, and as such an example of propaganda that really can confuse a fourteen-year-old, say, who doesn’t know much about the holocaust, as discussed by Alan November (who also includes a lesson plan for teaching junior high school kids how to evaluate a site based on what other sites link to it). But I don’t know that I really want to show eleven-year-olds vigrid.no.

My alternative and probably better plan is to make a fake copy of a site they already know. Say, their school web site. I’ll use the same template and graphics but put it on my own domain (clue 1), and fill it with false information. Let’s see, eleven-year-olds only know a little about the holocaust, but they all know that smoking is bad for you, so if I put in a serious-looking article titled something like “Smoking is good for kids” they’d get that pretty fast. I could mess up a few other things too so that it’s obvious that the website is a fake. That way they could both see how easy is to fake a website and hopefully learn some strategies to see through such trickeries.

Do you have any other ideas? Or can you think of any Norwegian web sites that would be good examples for eleven-year-olds?

6 thoughts on “how do you teach kids how to evaluate sources online

  1. FG

    Interesting. I’d love you to further report on this.

  2. Tord H¯ivik

    Hi, Jill!

    I am basically very sceptical to the idea of training school kids to evaluate resources found on the open web. I’ve seen many recipes – but doubt that the authors have tested the procedures they propose
    with ordinary (not constructed)school tasks and real children. More at:

    http://home.hio.no/~tord/kurs/skotek/elevsok.htm
    http://plinius.wordpress.com/2007/03/10/p-6307/

    Good luck!

  3. akaze

    maybe you could tie in something about evaluating google search results. like the whole “jew” thing: http://www.google.com/explanation.html, explaining how the more neutral your search terms are, the more likely you are to get reliable sources. kids (well, inexperienced people in general, i suppose) seem to have a lot of problems finding good information because they can’t (or don’t understand that they have to) use the right search terms.

    (they could practice at home- pick a question/topic, formulate a few different search terms, and try to evaluate which one gives you the most reliable information and why. (sometimes when i see people trying helplessly to google things and just getting crap back, i get a strange urge to tie them to the chair and make them do this until they get it. shit in, shit out, dammit.))

  4. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Tord, thanks for the link to your article about how to help kids find good sources for their project work. You raise good points, and I agree that students should learn to use subject catalogues and such rather than simply use google. For university students, resources like Google Scholar are another good way of finding quality information, but obviously that’s not suitable for eleven-year-olds.

    I do think it’s important that kids are at least aware that websites aren’t always trustworthy, whether or not they use Google to find material for their learning.

    Akaze – that’s a good idea, but I’m thinking maybe it’ll come a bit later in their web educations? I don’t want to cram too much into a half hour…

    I’m thinking my own daughter’s going to be getting some demos at home, anyway 🙂 She doesn’t really use Google much yet, though – mostly she has some websites she likes (games, mostly) and follows links from them rather than going to the web with a specific question as I often do. I imagine this will change as she grows.

  5. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Oh dear. It’s Wednesday evening and I haven’t made a fake web site. I’m going to have to think of a simpler solution…

  6. […] Her er opplegget jeg brukte med sjette- og syvendeklassingene p barneskolen for  snakke om kildekritikk p web. Det tok ca. en halvtime og jeg tror det gikk ganske bra – noen barn ble litt urolige, men stort sett virket det som om de fulgte med og syns det var interessant. Bakgrunnen for at jeg ble spurt skrev jeg om forleden, og jeg har ogs samlet linkene jeg fant om kildekritikk og barn og unge p del.icio.us. […]

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