Many of our students would consider themselves to be fairly savvy about how to navigate through the World Wide Web.
But how much do they really know about how the Web works?
In this module we explore the topic of Web Literacy.
We focus on how to help students develop critical thinking skills with respect to finding and validating information on the Internet.
At the end of this module, participants will be able to:
Crawler-based search engine – A search tool that creates search results by robots that "crawl" the web for sites.
Critical thinking skills – The active interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications, information and argumentation.
Human-powered directory - A search tool that depends on a human to submit web information to an editor. Editors have control over whether submissions appear within the directory.
Meta-search engine – A search tool that searches through a variety of search tools at the same time and aggregates the results.
Search Engine Optimization - The process of optimizing one's website to get better results in search engines.
Web Literacy – Also referred to as Information Literacy; it is the ability to recognize when Web information is needed, and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use it effectively.
The ability to think critically and problem solve is a key skill outlined by The Partnership for 21st Century Learning.
Given the rapidity of change, the advance of technology, the diminishing half-life of knowledge and the far-reaching effects of globalization, the Partnership is convinced that the best thing we can teach our children is how to teach themselves.
Critical thinking is defined as "skilled, active, interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications, information, and argumentation (Fisher & Scriven, 1997, p. 21).
It involves skills that can be taught, practiced and mastered.
The entire body of knowledge with respect to critical thinking is substantial.
A quick visit to The Critical Thinking Community website will provide you with a wealth of information and resources targeted to a variety of academic levels and individual subject areas.
Visit The Critical Thinking Community and find three resources targeted to the level of your teaching audience that might be useful in your online classroom.
Helping students build scaffolds to think critically about Web information can start early.
Fourth grade teacher Kevin found this out when teaching his students about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website.
Kevin asked his students to discuss the authenticity of the site and whether or not they believed the tree octopus was a real creature. Many were skeptical, but the majority of his students believed the site was authentic.
To try and validate the information, his students tried to Google the tree octopus, but there was no concrete evidence to support whether or not the site was fact or fiction.
At the time, Kevin was not exactly sure how to provide tangible proof that the site was a spoof.
The American Library Association (1989) defines Web Literacy as a set of abilities requiring individuals to
In the pages that follow, we focus on two key Web literacy skills:
1. How to find information.
2. How to validate information.
Many students and educators have a one-stop shop when it comes to searching for information on the Web: they rarely look beyond using Google.
Google is an example of search engine, a specific type of search tool.
How much do you know about other search tools?
Search Engines - Google is an example of a crawler-based search engine. Listings are created automatically by robots that "crawl" or "spider" the web for sites. Examples:
Search Directories - Listings are compiled by crawler-based techniques, as well as human-powered directories. Directories rely on a human element to help compile results. Example:
Meta-Search Engines – These search through a variety of search tools at the same time and aggregate the results. Examples:
To review the information on this page, complete the activity below.
If you are looking for ways to incorporate Web literacy activities in your lessons, consider the following:
Activity 1 - Compare and Contrast with NoodleTools
For a comprehensive list of what tool provides the best fit for your needs, try NoodleTools' Choose the Best Search for Your Information Need.
Choose several keyword terms that are associated with your subject area.
Have students conduct searches using a variety of search tools from the NoodleTools site and have them compare and contrast results.
Many students may not be aware of the wide array of search tools available.
Activity 2 - Yahoo vs. Google
In discussing the differences between search engines (Google) and search directories (Yahoo), provide students with a visual representation of how these differences affect their search results.
Go to Comparing Yahoo to Google.
Have students enter a variety of key search terms – for example, "nuclear physics."
Notes to consider >>
Discussion Question: Do you have any suggested student activities that will help students think critically about the search tools they commonly use?
Search Engine Optimization is a billion dollar industry. Companies go to great lengths to study Web behavior and get their websites to the top of your list of search results. Here are some findings:
Search Engine Behavior
Number of users who click on the first page of search results.
Number of users who click within the first 3 pages of search results.
Number of users who change their search term and/or search engine after reviewing the first page of results.
Number of users who change their search term and/or search engine after reviewing up to three pages of results.
A discussion about search tools would not be complete without a mention of the "deep Web."
The deep or "invisible Web" is where billions of documents and rich resources are housed.
Searching on the Internet can be compared to dragging a net across the surface of the ocean; a great deal may be caught in the net, but there is a wealth of information that is deep and therefore missed.
The deep Web is where you can find many subject-specific databases and catalogued articles that will not appear in a surface search of the Internet.
Try some deep sea diving on the Internet.
You can find searchable databases containing invisible web pages in the course of routine searching. Of particular value in academic research are:
NoodleTools' The Invisible Web Databases also is a great resource site of available links.
Discussion Question: What are some of the common issues or mistakes you see with your students when they are conducting searches on the Internet?
Finding information on the Internet is one thing. Urging students to think critically about what they find is another.
In this section, we concentrate on how to validate information.
We do a great job in our schools teaching young students literacy skills associated with print materials, such as, how to locate information and how to find the author or publisher of a book.
These same literacy skills can be applied to Internet materials, with some slight adjustments.
Tip #1 – Read the Web Address
One of the rudimentary things students should be able to do is read the address of a Web page.
A Web address will always contain the domain name of a site - a name that is associated with the business or institution, and an extension. For example:
The "extension" within a domain name can tell you a thing or two about a site before you even look at it.
How many extensions do you already know?
The extensions .org, .com, .net, .co are available to the public, which means anyone can use them.
Many reputable institutions have the extension .org in their domain names, but this can be a little deceiving.
An extreme example is martinlutherking.org. (We are not linking directly to this site due to the odious nature of its content.)
If you conduct a search for Martin Luther King, you will likely produce a set of results that includes a link to Martin Luther King Jr. – A True Historical Examination.
This site usually appears in the top four or five results and states it is designed for students. It even includes flyers for students to download.
Read a bit further and you will see this is a hate site – designed and published by a white-supremist group called Stormfront.org.
Stormfront has taken a seemingly innocuous domain name and used it to try and trick students into believing the content is legitimate.
Tip #2 – Find the Publisher
With printed materials, usually the name of the author is front and center. On the Web, author information is not always available, but the name of the publisher is easy to find.
Go to Easywhois.com and enter the domain name of any site.
For example, "harrypotter.com" or your school website address will generate a result.
When your result appears, scroll midway to see to whom the website is registered.
Publisher information can sometimes lead to information about how reputable website information may be, or just provide information as a matter of interest.
Tip #3 – Examine the Content
The easiest way to see if a website is suitable for your needs is to examine the content.
An important reminder for younger students is not to associate the quality of information to how good the site looks.
All About Explorers is an excellent example and teaching resource to illustrate just that.
Evaluating websites on a regular basis will help students think critically about the content they are reading.
If your students are using Web materials for their research projects, request they submit a Web Evaluation Rubric for each website they include in their bibliography.
Kathy Schrock has a wonderful list of Web Evaluation Resources targeted for a range of academic audiences.
Tip #4 – Cross Reference Information
Part of Google's algorithm is to crawl the Web and see how many sites are linked to others.
The higher the number of links to a given site, the higher that site will appear in the list of rankings.
It's possible to see who has linked to a particular site and an excellent way for students to cross reference Web information to find out what other people are saying about its content.
Cross referencing is done by a simple search technique you can try in Google or Alta Vista.
Go to Alta Vista. In the search box, start with "link:", then add the domain name of the site you would like to cross reference.
For example, to find out who has linked to the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website enter the following:
All of the search results that appear will have a link to this website somewhere on their pages.
Alan November is an international lecturer on Web Literacy. He once had a high school principal tell him that he regularly checks to see who is linked to his school's website.
The school once had an incident where a student was linking to the school and posting inappropriate photos and comments about staff and students. The Principal was able to find the student responsible by cross referencing the links.
To find out who is linked to your school website, go to Google.com
Enter "link:yourschooldomainname" in the search box
(No space between the "link:" and the domain name.)
In this module we have focused on three key areas related to Web Literacy:
We have explored a variety of search tools and provided suggested activities on how to get your students thinking beyond the use of Google as a search engine, and beyond the first page of their search results.
With respect to validating information, we have outlined four practical tips.
We do not suggest that students go through each one of these validating steps every time they visit a website. However, the more skilled they become in thinking critically about what they are reading, the more they will question why search results appear as they do, and become better quality researchers.
Complete the DragNDrop activity below before moving on to the Final Assessment.
American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology (1998). Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: AASL.
Bransford, J., Brown, A., and Cocking, R. eds. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Fisher, A.,& Scriven, M. (1997). Critical thinking: Its definition and assessment. California: Edgepress.
iProspect (2008). iProspect Blended Search Results Study. Retrieved May 30, 2009 from http://www.iprospect.com
November, A. (2008). Webliteracy for Educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2002). The Intellectual and Policy Foundations of the 21st Century Skills Framework. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from http://www.21stcenturyskills.org
Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.