Internet: Part 2 – evaluating sources

If you read Internet: Part 1 – Please Define, the topic under discussion was what do teachers mean when they refer to the Internet in regards to student research. I posited that the problem we have is with semantics – that subscription databases/DISCUS are NOT “Internet” resources. On the SCASL Ning, after giving my opinion of how teachers and students should perceive subscription databases, I then posed the question concerning how will we be evaluating the evolving nature of web resources as applied to student research:

“… now that many periodical resources are moving to limited print runs and/or to solely online subscriptions, how will we define them? Internet, free web, subscription databases…? Do (or can) blog entries be considered valid sources – do we simply apply the web evaluation methods for other websites to blogs, too?”

Are blogs credible/reliable reference sources?

Last year I had students performing research for their English IV papers who were citing blogs as credible sources. My initial reaction was – not acceptable! I’d like to point out that I hadn’t yet jumped on the Web 2.0/blogging bandwagon and didn’t REALLY know anything about blogs. The only blogs I had heard of were celebrity or rant blogs. So, being the smart librarian I am, I challenged the students to apply the same web evaluation guidelines (credibility, accuracy, reliability, relevance, date, sources, scope/purpose) to the blogs, that we do for all web pages – fully expecting blogs to fail the test. To my surprise, we found some of them to actually be acceptable – along with many that weren’t acceptable.

Subscription/Newspaper Databases

Recently a teacher assignment required students to find a current (last two weeks) newspaper article that related to their subject and write a summary. They had to provide a copy of the article with their summary. The teacher wanted them to use print newspapers. The problem was the library no longer subscribes to print newspapers. For one thing, no one ever read the daily paper. For another, I could count on one hand the number of times a student asked for the newspapers last year. So the newspaper subscriptions were a casualty of the library budget cuts I had to absorb this year.

Since we didn’t have newspapers for the students to use, and knowing DISCUS had the electronic database Newsbank, which, at the time, included The State Newspaper and a couple of other South Carolina newspapers, I showed students how they could access articles from there to use for the assignment. Some other bright students simply went to The State Newspaper website and found articles to use. You’d think the students would be praised for being resourceful in order to complete the assignment. NOPE. The teacher didn’t accept them because they weren’t what she asked for…WHAT!!! The explanation given by the teacher was that the articles were from the Internet and not from a print source. Students weren’t to use the Internet for the assignment.

(Picture me banging head on desk)

How could they not be what was asked for? – the articles used were all the same, whether they came from the print newspaper, the database, or the newspaper’s OWN website. They had all the same words, written by the same author, published the same day … *sigh*

If newspapers are no longer printed on paper, are they still newspapers?

Which brings me to print newspapers that have ceased print circulation and moved solely to online publications. I’ve read that many small town/city newspapers have already or are considering moving to online only publications. For educational purposes, are these online publications no longer acceptable sources because they are “Internet” sources? Are teachers going to limit the number of online newspapers students can use in research simply because they are online? You can also pose this question as it applies to print magazines and journals that publish their content on their websites as well as in print. And don’t forget about ‘zines – magazines that are only published online. Are all of these sources usable for student research?

Bottom line, evaluate!

In a perfect world, teachers wouldn’t need to specify number and type of reference sources for their research assignments. Students would naturally choose a wide variety of acceptable and evaluated sources (print, subscription databases, websites.) Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world; therefore, students (and many teachers) need to be taught how to evaluate materials, regardless of format. As the teacher librarian, that’s where I come in – it’s my job to teach these skills to my students and teachers!