Archive for the 'Evaluating Sources' Category

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What makes an expert an expert?

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!!

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Welcome to Blogland

I am so happy that Anne-Marie Gordon has decided to start a blog. I greatly value her knowledge and perspective.

Today – she blogs about Twitter – a web 2.0 app that I felt safe ignoring – until now. Darn. It really does have an educational use after all. Twittering in Outer Space

No wonder space aliens are portrayed with giant brains. People of the future are just going to need more brain space to keep up. What’s the next step after “twittering” – the Vulcan Mind Meld?

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Update to Librarian’s Lament

Librarian’s Lament has generated a few comments here – and many on LM_NET. I need to work these responses into a new post. Someday when there is time… I need to retire or take a sabbatical.

Anyway – just wanted to add some fuel to the fire. If you have not seen the video EPIC 2014 – you should take the time to watch it. Here is the filter friendly version in case your filter blocks the first link as mine does.

This video will make you think about what might happen if people lose their ability to think critically. Yes – there is a lot of wonderful thinking and discussion going on in this new world of the Read/Write Web. But there are dangers…. Our students need the skills to navigate this new world of information. I am thinking about it every day. Banning Web 2.0 sites and banning Google is NOT the answer. I suspect that changing databases & library catalogs to be more user-friendly is part of the solution. As school librarians, creating meaningful and memorable lessons on how to use & evaluate all kinds of information (google-based or otherwise)definitely IS the answer. Now – if I can just get some thinking/planning time!!

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A Librarian’s Lament

I rencently posted this lament on LM_NET listserv.

I am feeling very depressed about our student’s lack of critical thinking with regard to information found on the web. I am correcting the works cited lists for our 10th grade globalization research papers. In spite of spending time teaching and doing activities using our wonderful databases (Gale’s Student Resource Center, Gale Opposing Viewpoints, and EBSCO) – students STILL persist in getting the vast majority of their information from Google et al.

In spite of 2 years of teaching how to determine a site’s reliability – the students continue to turn in lists of sources that are of marginal use, or – worse yet – completely unreliable. I truly worry about how our students will ever grow up to be thoughtful, accountable citizens if they continually accept blindly the first 10 results that show up on Google. And yes – I know our mission is to teach them to be competent users of information in all forms. I don’t expect them to get everything from databases. Google is a wonderful tool – but it is only 1 tool. I DO spend significant time teaching how to determine the reliability of the sites they locate via Google. And yet…..

Here is what I have seen today:

Research Topic: Future technological advances in the military

Web site:

The American Chemist and the War’s Problems at
This is a copy of a journal article written in 1916!

Research Topic: The future of Nuclear Power in the United States.

Web site:

Advantages of Nuclear Power
Who is the author of the site? It states his name – but gives no information about him. Does putting and M.D. after his name make him an expert? The parent site appears to post random articles.

Research Topic: High Definition Television – the Effects of this technology on the future

Web site:
Dolan: High Def on DBS
This page is a short paragraph on KeepMedia. At the end of the paragraph it says:

“Read the rest of this article by subscribing to Premium Access! Or, buy just this article for $2.00″

How I wish I could add “Or – GO TO YOUR FRIENDLY LIBRARIAN, who will get it for you at no charge to you – either from a database or by requesting it to be faxed as part of our interlibrary loan service.”

The rest of the websites on this student’s list were all advertisements for High Definition TV. Nothing at all from a database or from some sort of objective website.

SIGH!!!!! I am not sure what I am looking for here. Perhaps just a kindred soul who is struggling with these same issues. Perhaps some sort of activity that will make the importance of website evaluation SINK IN. I do gather these kind of sites as examples for the following year. The kids all chuckle about them – but then bounce along their merry way – not willing to take the time to look deeply at where the “information” is coming from. Is it a maturation thing? Although my seniors
certainly did not cover themselves with honor when asked to do a web evaluation activity this year. See the following:

Are You Internet Savvy?

Thanks for “listening”. Keep checking back. I am sure there will be more to come as I continue grading works cited lists.

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Are You Internet Savvy? – Update

Just a quick update to Are You Internet Savvy?

Here is the latest example of the hazards of the information highway. I’ll bet you never realized that Isaac Newton invented the “beer bong!”

Sir Isaac Newton Resource Page

The site was discovered by a student researching famous scientists. Luckily – the “information” was ludicrous enough that she soon caught on that it was bogus. It would be great to use with students – except that some of the language is a bit “beyond the pale!”

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