“I’ll just Google it.”
It’s something that I hear my students say almost every single day. They seem to think that Google is the end all and be all of online information. Which is exactly what Google probably wants.
My kids also seem to think that websites don’t lie, misrepresent, or otherwise distort the facts. Another common assumption is that all websites are created equal.
As educators, or homeschooling parents, it is out job to help our students learn to weed out the best online resources from everything else. Luckily, there are a few tricks and tips that help us to do that.
How Did You Get Here?
It’s pretty basic, but why you navigated to a particular page is important. The reasons behind going to a page have a different order of weight or importance.
- A teacher or other trusted person gave you this site: it is probably an ok place to get information
- It was listed in another trusted site or resource: it’s probably good.
- A search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.): Check it out before you REALLY trust it!
Not all URLs are created equal. Each ending designates that website as belonging to a particular category.
- .com: a business or general website
- .org: an organization or non-profit
- .edu: connected to a college or university
- .net: part of an internet service provider
- .gov/.va.gov: a federal or state government website
- .ca: a website registered in another country
Government websites usually have LOTS of resources to back up their materials, so that is a good place to look.
Colleges and universities are also interested in providing accurate information, but might be influenced by their own interests and mission. For example, a heavily religious school might ignore facts that run contrary to its beliefs.
Websites run by non-profit organizations, or other groups, are interested in spreading their mission and message, but also generally have lots of facts to back up their statements.
Business or commercial websites are all over the place. Before trusting a .com address (actually, any website), take a look around. See what they are about, if they have lots of sources cited, and how changes can be made to their published pages/posts.
Who Wrote It?
Every word on a website is physically typed by someone. As a researcher, you need to know who that someone was. Look for:
- an author or authors identified by name
- credentials: degree(s), occupation, other published works.
- it should be relevant to what is on the website.
- can you contact the website?
- is it current? (within at least 10 years, max)
Is It Right?
This is where vetting becomes more about feel. There are no specific parameters, which is why my rule for online sources is that my students need to find three or more websites (if possible) that have information that matches on the major points.
For an example, let’s look back at my sources for Monday’s post on Madam C.J. Walker.
Take a look at the three sites I used:
I picked these three site specifically: all three are well-known for their content and accuracy in history and/or biography. Biography and History both have contact links at the bottoms of the articles.
After reading all three articles, all of the major points match up: place/date of birth, original name, names of spouses, name and general timeline of business, philanthropy, and date of/age at death. The wording and organization does differ between the sources, but the essentials all match.
What About Wikipedia?
Well, what about it? Wikipedia is not my favorite online research tool, BUT it can be ok if it is used with caution.
Why I distrust Wikipedia: anyone, and I mean anyone, can edit it. This has resulted in not a few scandals over the years.
Why it is ok, sometimes: the endless citations.
For an example, look at the entry for Madam C.J. Walker. The major points match up with the three sources I used on Monday. There is a LOT more information about some specifics that were skimmed over in the other entries. And there are links to other websites or information about print sources.
In order to 100% trust this source, I would need to examine every one of those sources. Especially because my three trusted resources didn’t include those details.
However, I CAN use Wikipedia as a jumping off point to locate other, more reputable, sources and information.
Need some help?
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