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Using Source Information to Evaluate the Credibility of Online Content

By Eva Wennås Brante and Carita Kiili
 | Jan 19, 2018

shutterstock_160130306_x300In our earlier blog post we introduced the idea of a monthly quiz to give students opportunities to regularly practice their evaluation skills. To maintain students’ interest, educators need to create different tasks and provide a variety of lenses that enhance critical thinking.   

As professor Julie Coiro points out, students rarely attend to source features, such as author, publisher, or publication type, to evaluate the credibility of information. And, if they do so, their evaluations are often superficial. One main challenge for students is to evaluate both content and source information in relation to each other—to read content in light of the source information, and vice versa. Educators can use the step-by-step guide we present below to walk students through this practice.

Step one: Teacher Preparation

Select a piece of website content that may represent commercial, ideological, or personal interest. One example is this blog post on CocaCola's website, which references a report concluding that aspartame is safe for consumption “at current levels of exposure.” We selected this website for our lesson because CocaCola sells products that contain aspartame and therefore has a vested financial interested in promoting the ingredient’s safety.

Reading the blog post without knowing who has published it may influence how readers receive the message. Our intention is not to say whether the blog post is true or false; we selected this site to give students experience in understanding how the content shifts when they know who has authored/published the information and discussing how that relationship influences their interpretation, as readers.

Copy relevant text from this website and paste onto a presentation slide, being sure to blind all source information about the publisher (e.g., logos and names).

Step two: Content evaluation

Let your students carefully read the text on the presentation slide and discuss the following questions in pairs.

  • What is the main message?
  • What kind of evidence supports the main message?
  • How credible is the information? Why do you think so?

Step three: Make an educated guess

Ask your students to guess who could be the author or the owner of the content shown on the slide, based on the underlying message.

Step four: Revealing the source information

Reveal the website to your students. Ask them to write a few sentences reflecting on their own understanding of the content after seeing who wrote/published the text, Then, ask students to share their thinking and responses to the following questions with a partner:

  • Has your understanding of the content shifted, and if so, why?
  • Did the source information change your perception about the credibility of the information?

Ask the pairs to briefly summarize their discussions with the class. Together, discuss why it is important to attend to source information.

Step five: Corroborating with additional sources

Encourage students to search for corroborating evidence. As a class, discuss with students what they find and whether or not this additional information influences their thinking about the overall credibility of the content.   

We hope that you will find this blog post helpful for expanding your repertoire of teaching critical evaluation of online information.

BranteEva Wennås Brante and Carita Kiili are both postdoctoral fellows at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo.

CaritaKiili_w80This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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