How to do Research on the Internet: A Lesson

February 3, 2012

This morning I did a little presentation with the middle school on how to do research on the internet, and we actually had a very good discussion. I focused on two key things: assessing credibility and writing citations (giving credit).

Credibility

[Henry] Hudson’s main goal as an explorer was to find a northern passage to the Orient. … He started his journey in May of 1607 and returned in September of the same year when his route was blocked by the Great Barrier Reef.

— All About Explorers (accessed Feb. 2012): Henry Hudson

I started by having the students to look up some explorers. If you prefix an explorer’s name with “all about explorers” (e.g. “all about explorers Christopher Columbus) the first link on google leads to the right website.

They were supposed to read the page and recorded three facts that they found interesting, but, in doing so, it pretty quickly becomes apparent that the information might not be very reliable; Columbus did not, after all, have to rely on infomercials to build support for his expedition.

The All About Explorers website was created by a group of teachers to be a tool for teaching about how to do research on the internet.

Having them see the site come up on google is, I think, better than sending them directly to the url. Google is usually their first recourse for researching anything, so it’s nice to see that google does not give information about credibility.

The discussion that ensued ranged pretty widely, but a key question that kept recurring was: how do you judge the credibility of a website. We talked a little bit about the possible biases of commercial .com and .net websites, and about the fact that .org’s may well also have their own biases, since it does not require any credentials to set one up (see montessorimuddle.org for example). On the other hand, while .gov and .edu domains (as well as most U.S. state and other country websites) are restricted to governments and colleges, that improves their credibility, but, in itself, is no guarantee of accuracy or being unbiased.

So much of assessing websites’ credibility comes from experience, which students just don’t have much of yet, so I recommended that checking with teachers and adults might be a good bet. Confirming data from multiple sources also helps, but you have to be careful, since so many websites now use Wikipedia as a source (or even reprint things directly from Wikipedia) that any errors in a Wikipedia page can spread far and wide pretty fast.

We did not get into how to use Wikipedia well (go for the sources at the bottom of the page), but we’ll get to that later.

Citing

For the second part of the lesson, I had them look up the same explorers they’d searched on the All About Explorers website. They had free range to search anywhere they wanted, but not only did they have to now collect facts but were to also find a good picture.

I’d wanted the pictures so we could talk about copyright and getting permissions to use media, but we did not get that far.

While they were satisfyingly more skeptical about where they got their information from, they were quite happy to give me the facts they’d found without attribution.

So I took the chance to talk about citing sources: to give credit where it is due; to avoid even the appearance of plagiarism; to give your reader an idea of how credible your sources are (and by extension how credible you are); and to let you readers know how up-to-date your information is.

An example of a citation for a website.

Conclusion

For the next week or so the middle and high school are on an interim. This is our writing interim, so they’ll be working on research projects (including how to do research) and creating publications (I’m in charge of the science journal).

Since more and more research is going online, hopefully this was a good primer to get students started.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. How to do Research on the Internet: A Lesson, Retrieved November 21st, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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