Teaching Zack to Think: Developing Critical Thinking Skills
Too many students are not sure how to tell fact from fiction on the Internet. The Internet can provide any version of the truth to support almost any belief. We can teach students how to read the “grammar” of the Internet and to apply strategies to validate information on a website. This popular session provides step-by-step teaching tips that help students and teachers think critically about Internet information and improve their online search strategies.

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Website Validation (REAL)

Evaluate websites with variations and extensions of skills you use to evaluate print materials.


Read the URL:
  • What is the base URL (domain and extension)?
  • Do you recognize the domain name?
  • What is the extension in the domain name?
  • What does this extension mean? Country Codes - http://goes.gsfc.nasa.gov/text/web_country_codes.html
  • What can you tell about the site by simply reading the domain name (without even visiting the site?)
  • Is the site sponsored/hosted by a trusted organization?
  • Is it a personal page?*
  • Is it published using a free web hosting service?*
Examine the content:
  • Does the site appear useful for your purpose?
  • Does the information appear accurate and complete?
  • How does it compare to other resources on the same topic?
  • Are sources cited? Can you verify key information?
  • What is the purpose of the site (inform, persuade, entertain?)
  • When was the site last updated?*
  • How has the site changed over time?
    Wayback Machine - http://www.archive.org
  • Are there ads on the page? Does that affect the credibility?
Ask about the author
  • Who wrote the site? Do they provide credentials?
  • Look for "About" or Google the author/owner. What kind of results do you get?
  • Is there a way to contact the author?
  • Who owns the site? Check Easy Whois - http://www.easywhois.com/
  • Does the author seem knowledgeable? Is s/he an expert in the field?
Look at the links:
*The implications/importance of these criteria will vary depending on the topic and purpose.

REAL Video Series (Brian Mull, November Learning) - http://vimeo.com/8579858

Sites to Examine

ACTIVITY A: In small groups, use the REAL steps to examine one (or more) of the above websites.
ACTIVITY B: Conduct a basic search on a common student research topic. Use one or more of the REAL steps to compare the potential value of three sites to meet your information need.

Dig in to Google

Classic  example of "Type & Hope."  (Image by Stefan).
Classic example of "Type & Hope." (Image by Stefan).

ACTIVITY: Do a search for a topic of interest (possibly curriculum-related). Start by Thinking Like a Webpage, and see how far you can refine and improve the results using the Google Advanced Search techniques above (Think Like a Search Engine).

Search Smarter

ACTIVITY: "Social Searching:" Try one of more of the following:
- Use Twitter Search to locate three resources about about a current news topic
- Teach yourself something of personal interest or curricular relevance in YouTube
- Locate 5-10 quality resources on a topic of interest by searching Diigo

What About Wikipedia?

ACTIVITY: Check out a topic of professional or personal interest in Wikipedia. Does the content seem valid, complete, well-written? Visit the Discussion tab to see if there has been any conversation or controversy about the article. Also look at the History tab and explore a few of the revisions.

Web Literacy & Critical Thinking Resources