Helping Your Homeschooler Spot Iffy Internet Information
Today’s Internet has opened a whole new avenue for information and, unfortunately, misinformation. Like many students, homeschoolers who research and gather data for assignments, reports, or papers can easily be swayed to trust data simply because it comes from the Internet. In fact, according to a recent report, researchers found that a staggering 39% of 9 to 17 year olds believe that online information is correct.
So what can we do as homeschool parents to help our children judge information found on the Internet? Rather than being gullible and falling prey to misinformation, misconceptions, and untruths, your homeschooler can validate Internet sources by observing these simple tips:
Find the author’s name. Think critically and consider the information’s source. Ask credibility questions such as, “What are the writer’s background and credentials?” “Can the author be reached for questions or comments?” “Has the writer taken care to check for proper punctuation and spelling?” and “Is the author fair, objective, and concerned with the truth?”
Look for a list of sources after the article. Is the page merely an opinion? If the author doesn’t have strong, applicable credentials, does he include support for the information or mention other resources with similar information?
Go to Google’s “Link to” feature at http://www.google.com/. Type in link: followed by the website’s URL, such as (link:aophomeschooling.com). Review the list of sites that link to the website you are using for a resource. To determine the trustworthiness of the site, evaluate the links by asking “Are there many links?” “What kinds of sites link to it?” and “Are any of the links directories?”
Note the website’s URL. Be careful. Even though a website may seem reputable in itself, the information following a tilde (~) indicates that portion of a website is maintained by someone else. In addition, discuss with your child the meaning for the following extensions found in a domain name:.edu – educational (could be legitimate research or an unreliable student page).gov – governmental (most often dependable).com – commercial (might be selling a product).net – network (could provide services to commercial or individual customers).org – organization (non-profit groups – may be biased)
Research who owns the website at http://www.whois.net/, and then see if the organization/group may have any bias in their presentation of information.
Use a trusted fact-checking site such as http://www.factcheck.org/ to verify information.
Evaluate the website’s design and technology. The quality and functionality of a website should also be considered. Ask yourself, “Are the graphics and pictures relevant and clear?” “Are the pages easy to maneuver and colors well chosen?” and “Do the links work and do the pages load relatively quickly?”
Check the website’s date. Just like you verify the date of an encyclopedia or reference periodical, ask yourself “Is the date of site current?”
In the end, homeschool parents must teach their children to ask, “Does it all add up?” While a wonderful educational tool, the Internet is filled with inconsistency, fallacy, and unproven data. Even reputable looking websites and sources lead many astray who think the Internet is trustworthy because of its vast amount of available information. Critical thinking, discernment, and evaluation skills are key if your child is to succeed in handling Internet content.
How do you promote qualifying Internet resources in your homeschool? Please share what tips you may have in the comment section below.