Are your students using the best online resources available? Make sure they do by guiding them to these proven tools.
by Brenda Thomas
Research formats have changed since I was in college. No longer do students need to spend hours in the library flipping through the card catalog (don’t you miss those drawers?), searching through volumes of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature (awesome!), or reading the glossy pages of an encyclopedia (I still have the black and brown hard cover World Book set with gold-edged pages from my childhood).
When I was younger, the places where I did research had carefully selected, quality, reputable resources available for my use; it just took some time to find those resources and the information they contained. Now, we and our students have the internet and can more quickly locate resources, but also have to navigate through and filter out those of lesser or questionable quality. However, students do not always do that for a variety of reasons, such as time constraints or not knowing how.
As instructors we want our students to use reputable resources for their research assignments. If you are like I am, more than once you have looked at the References (or Works Cited) section of your students’ papers and sighed when seeing some of the internet sources listed there. While I am elated when they remember to include this section, I am at times troubled by some of the sources I see there.
Even though universities and instructors provide information to students about the importance of using reputable sources, some of the less-than-reputable ones get used anyway. If you notice this happening with your students, you might be interested in testing out some of the free available resources that I will briefly detail below. Perhaps one or more of these tools will help your students better evaluate online sources.
I recently provided the Source Educational Evaluation Tool (SEER) offered free by TurnItIn as an interactive method for students to use in evaluating online sources. This is a pdf form with a Creative Commons license, so it can be freely used and distributed. What is does is calculate a credibility percentage of a specific web article based on which checkboxes the student selects while evaluating the source. You can download it for FREE here.
Northwest Missouri State University has a checklist available on their library webpage that anyone can use to help determine if the source they are consulting is reliable and credible. This is a simple checklist that helps students make sure they have considered all the important factors necessary in a quality resource.
The Kent State University library webpage has a link to an evaluation form in Word that students can use to enter in category ratings and then calculate an overall score for the credibility of sources. This site contains links to the form in pdf, rtf, and Word formats.
Another interesting tool can be found at www.easybib.com which perhaps is a site your students already use for help in formatting their citations. Once you are on that website, click on Essay Tools, and then from the drop-down menu click on Website Evaluation. This brings up a page where you enter a URL. After entering the URL, the evaluator box shows up onscreen next to the webpage and prompts you to answer evaluative questions about the webpage.
The last resource I want to mention is a feature of Wikipedia. There are some ways that Wikipedia can be useful to students, especially if they are using it to gain background information or to direct them to the sources used in the entries. There is a guide that explains how to use the features on Wikipedia pages to evaluate Wikipedia articles. If you are not familiar with this guide or the built-in evaluation features of Wikipedia, you can learn more about it HERE.
This is not an exhaustive list of available web resource evaluation tools, but it might be worth trying some of these tools out yourself to see if you want to recommend any of them to your students. Perhaps some of you have your own evaluation tools or know of other helpful ones. If so, please mention those in the comments below.
Brenda Thomas has been an online adjunct faculty member at GCU since 2015. She has two Master of Arts degrees: one in biblical studies and the other in humanities. In addition to teaching, Brenda is a freelance writer of articles on topics pertaining to the Bible or history – and often both in the same article. She and her husband have been blessed with two children.