Educational Resources on the Web
One of the
biggest issues facing educators who want to use the web as an
instructional resource is the issue of quality: basically, whether
or not the web site is any good. Unfortunately, there are many
more issues of quality that are relevant to web sites than there
are for other, more traditional kinds of resources: educators
need to think about not only whether the materials will be useful
in their teaching but also consider factors related to technical
reliability, objectivity, and accuracy.
In this section,
we will explore some of the characteristics of a good web site
as well as address some specific issues related to sites whose
intent is to provide materials for use in education. The qualities
we'll discuss are the following:
issues such as reliability (can you access the site regularly?)
and speed (do the pages load quickly, given the type of connection
you use?). We'll look at how and why sites may be unreliable,
and provide alternative strategies to use when you can't connect
to the web site that you're looking for.
Objectivity and accuracy of the materials at the site. Because
web pages often lack information about authorship, it's important
to adopt a critical attitude toward any material encountered online.
We'll talk about how to find out who created a site as well as
discuss the probable differences in materials created by group
and individual authors, and materials at commercial and non-commercial
If the site is purported as being an educational web site, the
materials presented must be held to the same criteria as other
educational tools. A generic evaluation criteria that can be used
when visiting educational sites will be presented and we will
take a look at the efforts of organized groups to rate or evaluate
educational sites on the web.
Issues to Consider When Evaluating a Web Site
trying to decide if a web resource is appropriate for use with
students, you will want to gather some information about the site
which you are planning to use. The general guidelines discussed
earlier give you some information about the site, but you will
want to consider a number of issues in the context of how these
resources can be used as part of your instruction. In the next
section, we will look at some of the main issues you need to consider.
the biggest consideration in evaluating a web site is the quality
of its content. Is the information at the site accurate and current?
Is there enough content there to be interesting? Some sites are
"thin," without much depth beyond the initial headings
on a main page. Again, you'll need to think about how you plan
to use the material before you can decide for certain whether
the content is appropriate for you.
Is the design
of the site easy for kids of the target age group to understand?
If it's not, you can guide them through it, but this will require
more work and planning on your part than simply sending them to
the site and relying on the site to guide them. Some web sites
may contain material that is too complicated for a child's level
of understanding, but the opposite may also be the case with web
sites that are so simplistic that their message becomes almost
with web sites specifically designed for children is that they
often try to encompass too wide a range of ages, such as 8-13.
Eight-year-olds and 13-year-olds not only have different reading
levels but also respond best to different visual presentation
formats. Bright colors and "kid-style" fonts may read
as being too "babyish" to someone at the top of the
earlier, the background of a web site's author is a critical factor
to consider when determining the usefulness of a site. You need
to consider the credentials and motives of the author. If it's
a commercial web site, such as Disney or Dole Fruit (both of which
contain materials aimed at young people), how much valid information
is being interspersed with advertisements for the company's products?
The Disney web site may contain lots of fun resources, but can
you use the good materials there without continuing the ongoing
promotion of Walt Disney products? As an educator and a responsible
parent, you must decide how much, if any, advertising and promotional
material on a web page is acceptable.
we have to remember that anyone can publish a web page.
If it's a personal web page (or even an organizational web page)
you must evaluate the source. The adage "don't believe
everything you see in print" is multiplied a billionfold
on the web. While you can usually trust what you read in the daily
newspapers, there's nothing approaching that level of editorial
filtering on the web. Anyone can say anything, even if it's ridiculous,
untrue, or simply mistaken.
means is that you have to be an extremely critical consumer of
information that comes to your from the World Wide Web. At the
worst level, you can find all kinds of incorrect and inflammatory
theories like Holocaust denial; at a less obvious and more important
level, all kinds of opinionated and unsubstantiated materials
such as bad science, bad history, or any other type of misinformation
may be found on the web.
point, and it cannot be overstated, is that while it may be tempting
to want to use a web site that looks appealing and genuine, you
should always consider where it comes from. Don't take anything
at face value without doing some investigating on your own. All
of the critical reading skills in media literacy that you use
with traditional materials must also be used on the web and to
even a greater degree because of the web's lack of editorial review
and often non-existent accountability.
is for you to try to stick to the web sites of well-known entities
such as NASA, the New York Times, CNN, etc., since these are sources
whose material you can pretty much trust in the first place. However,
this does not mean that other less well known web pages put up
by individuals aren't going to have good information, because
many of them do, and a number of them have been mentioned throughout
this course. It just means that what all of us already know: educational
use of the World Wide Web demands that you be a careful consumer
Will a web
site that you like and want to re-visit still be available the
next time you try to access it or will it have disappeared? As
we discussed earlier, many web pages routinely come and go; although
this situation is one that you may find frustrating, it is accepted
as a fact of life on the web. If you plan to rely on a web site
for educational or informational purposes, you should attempt
to verify its stability before getting your heart set on using
On the printed
page, layout and design are important factors in ensuring that
you can find the information that you're looking for. But in computer-based
interactive multimedia, such as on a CD-ROM or the web, layout
and design is critical in helping you not only find the information
on the page but also in determining the navigational path. Some
sites with great information can be rendered unusable by a visually
confusing interface design.
Strategy for Determining the Educational Value of Web Sites