Having students think about validating information they find on the web is a highly important and critical digital literacy skill. In the past, my students used a framework called R.E.A.L- (described below) taken from Alan November’s Web Literacy for Educators book. It was a great way to start students thinking about validating information they found online. I began using these concepts with my students in 2008, and nearly ten years later it seems time to make some updates to this framework.
Here are a few steps to help students gain more information about the author and the website. The adaptations are in bold.
The Framework For Students
Read the URL – what does it tell you about the author or the source of the article? Look for things like Smithsonian or New York Times – in the address. Can you tell, from the address, if this is on a private blog or from a reputable organization? What can that tell you about the information you are about to examine?
Read and click through all the navigation tabs to see what you can glean about the source of information, the site and anything that will help you start thinking more critically about the content.
Examine the content – this is an essential step. The student must look over the content paying specific attention to any strong language, out of place wording or things that don’t seem suited for the title.
This is a good time to use “Command F” to search the page. With this feature, a small search bar will appear in the upper right hand corner of the screen – and students can search for certain words or phrases that they might be looking for specifically. This can give students good information as to whether this is a rich information source or not – for their research needs.
If there are comments, examine them closely. Pay close attention to what they tell you about the agreement and/or disagreement with this content. Can you get a feel for any opinions that dominate the thread? What does this tell you about the source?
Examine the images. Can you do a reverse image search to find where they come from? Does this tell you anything important?
Ask about the author – try Who is.com – and place the address of the site into the search bar to see who owns the site. This does not always produce rich information so one may have to go a bit deeper.
Look for the about section – or maybe the author is directly listed on the first page. If you can find the author, dig into their their social media presence… search for their social accounts and see what they are posting on other sites – what can we learn about this person from their other posts.
Look at the links – who links to this site? To find out, use https://moz.com/researchtools/ose. Once there, add the address of the site you are validating and begin your query. This will give you some very interesting rating information about the site and list what sites link to this source. Look at those sites to see if you can critically analyze what those sites might tell you about the information you are validating.
Look at the shares – has the information been shared a lot? Is it popular? This might help you decide whether you want to spend time with this information – or if you should consider using it as a source for your research. Popularity does not mean the article is always better, but sites that have been shared a lot have been under the scrutiny of many eyes, and fallacious arguments or facts will have been most likely called out.
Finally, use a Google Form to have students submit validated sites. They only do this after all steps have been completed and they feel they have the information they need to validate the source. This will give the teacher a place (the spreadsheet) to check their analysis and research against those sources cited in their paper. Here is an example form.
Teaching students to validate information is one of the most important skills we are not teaching well. This year make it a goal to help students become more information literate – they will thank you for it!
**Full implementation of this should start in middle school. Use appropriate adaptations for lower grades.