I have a brilliant student in my school. You will be hearing from him someday. A very fine mind – one that is constantly working, turning information upside down and sideways to understand it completely, constantly asking questions. Fascinating to watch him in action.
I am always after my students to “question their sources”. Why is it a good source? What makes the author an expert? What make the organization reliable? So….. today this student comes to me with a web source. GLOBAL ISSUES. He says, “I used this web site in my term paper. It is written by only 1 guy – but he seems to really know what he is talking about. Is the source reliable enough to put in my paper?”
He is right. It certainly looks like a great website. The author runs it by himself, and he apparently has devoted much time and attention to the site for the past 10 years. He lists “awards” from other websites – but those websites also seem to be run by single authors. His “about” section really does not give me much evidence of personal expertise. But – is it absolutely necessary for an author to have a degree in the topic in order to write a good opinion or news piece? The author writes:
My background is a degree in computer science—not exactly a degree in global issues! The point is that you don’t need to have qualifications to be concerned and want to do something, although you do need the time to sift through a lot of information to understand what is happening!
My aim here is to raise awareness and provide links to more information for people wanting to look deeper into these issues. Most of the links on a given page are to external web sites that provide more detail to the points I raise. There are some 7,000 external links to news articles, research papers and so on, from charity and non-government organizations like Oxfam, Amnesty International, etc. to multinational bodies like the United Nations. Furthermore, as I read more and more books, I am sourcing those as well.
I have looked over the specific article my student used. It does appear to be quite well sourced. I did a Google link search to find out who links to the site. Many of those sites are blogs and other personal websites.
Bottom line… My student does have 4 or 5 other sources that easily meet the traditional reliability test. So, I told him that I would consider it acceptable as one of many sources, as long as he was not using it for more than a small percentage of his paper.
Still – I don’t feel that I have a really good answer for evaluating sites such as this.
Blogs…wikis….forums….bulletin boards…. The information landscape has become much more complex. I understand the concept of the “age of the amateur” and the “wisdom of crowds”. But I am not working in a theoretical world. I am living right here in high school – where the rubber meets the road. How do I guide students? Do I perpetuate the “old guard” – insisting that no one is an expert unless they have a degree in the topic – or at least have been hired by a reputable organization? Do I let them use any blog out there that matches the thesis they are attempting to prove? Where is the happy medium?
Help me out here folks!!