Critically Evaluating Online Information

Julie Coiro, University of Rhode Island Donald J. Leu, University of Connecticut
April 9, 2008

The Problem:
Few of our students think critically about information they encounter on the Internet. Our research indicates that middle school students, for example, almost always evaluate reliability in terms of the amount of information at a site – if a site has extensive information, it is reliable. Similarly, our research suggests few students consider who wrote the information and how this might impact the perspective taken.

The Questions:
1. What are some of the reading and learning skills required for critically evaluating information online?
2. How might we teach these skills in the classroom?

Activity 1: How do I know if the information is true?
Evaluating The Validity of Online Information

1. Work with your group to brainstorm strategies for evaluating the validity of information at a website. Create a short list of these ideas.

2. Choose one or more of the sites below and use the Internet to determine if the information is real or not real. Do not rely on background knowledge since our students often lack this when reviewing a site. One example of a strategy would be to use this site: There are many others though. If you determined that the information is real, what evidence do you have to prove it? If you think it's a hoax, how do you know for sure? List the strategies that you used.

3. Share with the larger group the strategies that helped you determine the validity of each website. Add to your own list any new strategies you learned from someone else in the group.

4. What ideas do you have about how you might teach these skills and strategies in the classroom?

Activity 2: How does the author shape the information at this website?
Detecting Bias in Online Information

1. Briefly explore the information about dogsled racing at the three webpages below, noting the information's author(s) and their affiliation.

Site A: Veterinary Center for the Iditarod
Site B: Racing for the Grave
Site C: Is the Iditarod for the Dogs?

2. Detecting Fact vs. Opinion: Tell which website you think has the STRONGEST opinions about the use of sled dogs in the Iditarod. Tell whether you think the author of the website you chose is for or against racing sled dogs for competition. Select a quote from the website you chose and explain why you think it represents a strong opinion (rather than a fact).

3. Detecting Bias and Considering the Author:
a. What claims does the author(s) of each website make about racing sled dogs in the Iditarod?
b. Tell which website (Site A, B, or C) offers opinions from more than one side of the issue. Once you have identified this website, identify the factors that make these two people feel the way they do about the treatment of sled dogs?

4. What ideas do you have about how you might teach these skills and strategies in the classroom?