Most modern educators would agree that integrating the Internet into classroom learning activities is important when planning for today’s digital native students. However, not everything on the Internet is valuable and worthwhile for students to see or use while working on an academic activity. Even with the revised Children’s Internet Protection Act (2008) that requires schools and libraries receiving e-rate funding to have filter and monitoring software in place as well as curriculum initiatives designed to educate students on appropriate online behavior and cyber bullying, keeping students safe on the Internet is still a concern (Capital Area Intermediate Unit 15, 2013). The problem lies in the fact that “students frequently accept as authoritative any information they find on the Internet” (Roblyer and Doering, 2013). There are considerations and steps teachers can follow to minimize the danger online as well as help students to become savvier Internet users. An important aspect of Internet safety and responsibility is the accessibility of inappropriate content available online to students.
Even with the best school web-filtering websites students will still have a chance of stumbling onto inappropriate content. Pornographic sites are always a big concern, but the reality of that is students recognize immediately when they are on a pornographic site and that it is inappropriate. Every classroom, if not school or district, should have a policy in place for reporting such websites so that they can be added to the filtered list.
A more dangerous example of inappropriate content is the use of websites that present highly biased or purposely false information. Schools and teachers should be presenting students with neutral and factual information and teaching them the necessary skills to become lifelong learners and reasonable arguers. To do this either the teacher must comprise the list of all Internet resources for the students, which doesn’t really teach the student to be self-sufficient; or the teacher must teach the students to properly evaluate web resources for usefulness and validity.
Publisher McGraw-Hill (2001) describes on their Higher Education website a very useful source evaluation tool by the acronym CARS (Credibility Accuracy Reasonableness Support). This checklist can be used to assess “the quality of a source,” though the instructions point out that not all sources will meet each criterion they can still be a valuable source. Teach students to ask questions about their sources.
– Is the evidence presented sufficient (is there enough)?
– Are the arguments and information rational?
– Can a logical conclusion be made from the information presented?
– Is the information up to date?
– Is the information specific (not vague)?
– Is the information unbiased (not emotional or filled with sweeping generalities)?
– Is the language calm and factual (or is it inflammatory and immature)?
– Is the information believable (or does the site make exaggerated claims)?
– Is the information presented with relevance to importance (or does it overstate its importance)?
– Is the information presented by a neutral party (or is there a conflict of interest)?
– Does the website present a list of sources?
– Is there a bibliography or other form of documentation?
– Is there contact information for the creator/poster?
– Can the information be verified through other sources?
Teaching students to evaluate their resources before using them on a project or information gathering activity can decrease the dangers of the students absorbing false or fraudulent information. This evaluation method is a useful life skill that the students can impart into their own passions and interests, not just school projects. It is better to teach responsible Internet usage than to block the Internet. There will be no filters on their computers when the students are adults after all.
Resources for more information on evaluating sources online:
OWL at Purdue – http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/04/
YouTube – www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlqZSg5ER6A
Columbia University Library – http://library.columbia.edu/indiv/undergrad/evaluating_web.html
Capital Area Intermediate Unit 15 (2013, March 10). CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act). E-rate In Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.e-ratepa.org/PDFs/CIPA.pdf
McGraw-Hill (2001). Source Evaluation Tutor: CARS. McGraw Hill Education: Higher Education. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/english/allwrite3/seyler/ssite/seyler/se03/cars.mhtml
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.