Not all online sources are created equal. While there are scores of legitimate sources online – including whole encyclopedias and many scholarly journals, there are also many that are much less credible.
When a student cites a Web site in a report, it’s important for teachers to know the difference between content written by a professional (who did proper research himself) and “crowd-sourced” content. Crowd sourcing is when information gets posted on the Internet by people who claim to know the facts. In many cases these writers get things wrong, pointing students down the wrong path.
To help you stay a step ahead of your students, EducationWorld will update this article from time to time as new sites go online.
Wikipedia: The biggest and most successful of all the crowd-sourced sites, Wikipedia.com is essentially an encyclopedia written by random people on the Internet. Wikipedia essentially has articles about everything, so it's tempting to assume that this depth makes the site credible. Anyone, however, can contribute to or edit a Wikipedia page at any time. This means that right now, you can go in and swap the entry on Henry Blake from “M.A.S.H.” with the one on Henry VIII.
Validity: Wikipedia is not a proper source for citations or any real research. It might point a student in the right direction, but it should not be directly quoted.
Demand Media: Often derided as a “content mill,” Demand Media owns a variety of properties including eHow.com, Answerbag.com and Livestrong.com. These sites post content based on what people are commonly searching for on the Internet. The content writers are paid low rates, and the work is fact-checked by similarly low-paid professionals. These sites produce enormous amounts of content, although the articles tend to be superficial.
Validity: Articles on Demand Media sites are usually written very quickly and are often very short. That said, they are carefully edited, and the facts would almost always be right. A student who relies on this type of site for an entire report might be questioned for doing lazy research, but it would be reasonable for a student to use one of these sites for a specific fact.
About.com: About.com hires writers to cover various topics. For example, a specific writer might oversee About.com’s section on house cats, while another might be in charge of the section on digital cameras. These “guides” produce lots of overview content on their subject and offer links to other information on the subject.
Validity: About.com has a rigorous screening process that ensures the site hires actual experts. These “guides” work with editors, and the site can generally be considered credible.
Yahoo! Answers: Yahoo! Answers is an example of a “question and answer” type of Web site. On some of these sites, experts must meet certain qualifications before they can answer. On Yahoo! Answer, however, anyone can answer a question and sometimes questions have multiple, perhaps contradictory, answers.
Validity: You simply don’t know the credibility of the person answering, so Yahoo! Answers cannot be considered a valid source.
Article by Daniel Kline, EducationWorld Consultant
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