Evaluating Online Educational Materials for Use
in Instruction. ERIC Digest.
by Branch, Robert M. - Kim, Dohun - Koenecke, Lynne
The Web publishing revolution can be compared to the desktop publishing
revolution. With the widespread use of personal computers and desktop publishing
software, the construction of printed publications was sometimes put into
the hands of novices. Sometimes the editors and layout artists were removed
from the equation. Some publications were very good; many were not.
With the Internet, anything can be published on the Web at a low cost
and distribution is virtually worldwide. Profuse amounts of information
are put on the Internet every day. In many cases there is no editor, reviewer,
or any other kind of review mechanism to determine the credibility, quality,
accuracy, or timeliness of the material.
This problem magnifies when searchers find incorrect or out-of-date
materials that are supposed to be used in instruction. An unsuspecting
learner might be exposed to incorrect information retrieved by the instructor.
It is imperative that information gathered on the Web be subject to the
same strenuous critique as information that previously would have been
gathered from books and other publications.
This Digest will help teachers select good resources to use in their
instruction by providing a checklist to evaluate online educational materials.
GETTING STARTED: HOW TO FIND GOOD SITES
There are many useful, high quality Web pages. Many sites have been
reviewed, authenticated, or sponsored by highly reputable organizations.
Some sites are dedicated to gathering valuable educational resources for
educators (see suggested sites on next page). Find some reputable organizations
in your field of study that act as reviewers for the Web. A wise beginning
strategy would be to ask questions of your school's library media specialist.
If you need to search and find good sites by yourself, the first task
to master is searching for pages relevant to your subject. One must research
and practice searching techniques to narrow search results to pages that
are most probably relevant to the search topic. After learning to effectively
find topical Web pages, the next, and probably most critical task, is assessing
the pages found. How, then, do teachers determine if their findings are
jewels or just stones?
A CHECKLIST FOR EVALUATING ONLINE EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS
The following are seven major topic areas to consider when evaluating
web-based materials for use in instructional settings.
(1) Judge the accuracy of the information and take note of the date
modified. Sub-questions to ask yourself:
*Does the site provide evidence that it comes from reputable sources?
*Does the site contain any obvious biases, errors, or misleading omissions
in the document?
*Does the site contain advertising that might limit the nature of the
*Is the information current and up-to-date?
(2) Is the level of information in this site appropriate for the intended
audience? Sub-questions to ask yourself:
*Does the site contain information appropriate for the intended learners
with respect to their maturity and cognitive abilities?
*Does the site contain any extraneous and unsuitable vocabulary, language
or concepts, bias, or stereotyping?
(3) Is the information in this site presented clearly? Sub-questions
to ask yourself:
*Is the information arranged in an orderly fashion?
*Is the information presented clearly?
(4) Is the information in this site closely related to purpose, content,
activity, and procedures? Sub-questions to ask yourself:
*Is there a clear tie among the purpose, content, and procedures suggested?
*Does the site contain any activities irrelevant to the topic?
*Does the site contain any redundant or isolated activities without
a relationship to objectives?
(5) Is the information in this site complete in scope and ready for
use? Sub-questions to ask yourself:
*Does this site contain complete breadth and depth of information related
to the topic it claims to cover?
*Are there any content gaps in concept development?
(6) If a website has activities, are the content, presentation method,
and learner activity potentially engaging? Sub-questions to ask yourself:
*Are the suggested activities challenging, interesting, and appealing
for the intended learners?
*Does the information in the site emphasize and promote relevant action
on the part of the learner?
*Does the site have the potential for developing confidence and satisfaction
as a result of learner effort?
(7) If it claims to be comprehensive, is the information in the site
well organized? Sub-questions to ask yourself:
*Is the information in the site easy to use and logically sequenced,
with each segment of the resource related to other segments?
*Does the information flow in an orderly manner, use organizing tools
(e.g., a table of contents, a map, or headings), and avoid the use of unrelated
elements that are potentially ineffective or overpowering?
*Are references, bibliographies, or other supporting evidence provided?
After you are comfortable recognizing the elements of good sites by
using the above seven questions and sub-questions, find and evaluate some
sites on your own. With some practice, finding and evaluating Web materials
for instruction will become second nature. Keep in mind that instruction
might be found in different sized chunks. You might find several parts
in different places to construct your own lesson, or you might find good
entire lesson plans.
A GOOD STARTING POINT: SUGGESTED WEB SITES
There are many starting points on the Web that are very helpful when
looking for tools to evaluate websites. Listed below are some helpful sites.
Web Resource Evaluation Related Sites
* Bibliography on Evaluating Internet Resources. A comprehensive bibliography
of sites that deal with this topic.
* Criteria for evaluating information resources.
* Critical Thinking and Internet Resources. Includes: WWW CyberGuide
Ratings for Content Evaluation, Teaching Critical Evaluation Skills for
WWW Resources, Evaluating Quality on the Net, Thinking Critically about
*Evaluating Internet Resources-A Checklist.
*Evaluating Websites. Bill Trochim provides useful information and tools
for evaluating websites.
*Evaluating Websites for Educational Uses: Bibliography and Checklist.
*Guidelines for Evaluating Internet Information.
*Internet Detective. An interactive tutorial which provides an introduction
to the issues of information quality on the Internet and teaches the skills
required to evaluate critically the quality of an Internet resource. Free,
but requires registration.
*Internet Source Validation Project. How to Evaluate Web Pages
*Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators-Critical Evaluation Information.
A series of evaluation tools, one each at the elementary, middle, and secondary
school levels, are provided to help students critically evaluate a Web
*Selection Policy for Resources and Evaluation Criteria Rating System
for Web Sites From AASL
*Web Site Evaluation. A Collection of Research Papers and Surveys. The
links on this page provide criteria that can be used to make judgments
about educational Web sites in K-12 and higher education contexts.
*Web Site Evaluation Guidelines from Ed's Oasis.
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Harmnon & Reeves. (1998). Educational WWW sites evaluation instrument.
---http://itech18.coe.uga.edu/edit8350/wwweval.html [1999, April 27].
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