Once upon a time, teachers could feel fairly confident in the research sources their students used in projects and papers. Books from the library were vetted and fact-checked by their publishing houses.
Enter the internet- arguably the most revolutionary thing ever to happen to human information exchange.
What is a content farm? Content farms are basically companies that rapidly piece together low quality content for the sole purpose of ad delivery. A few that you might have heard of are answers.com, eHow, Yahoo’s associated content, and ezinearticles.com. A typical model for these companies is to pay (or not) thousands of people tiny amounts of money for writing volumes of “articles” on the things that people most frequently search for on the web. The credentials or knowledge of the people that write these “articles” generally doesn’t matter- the goal is to produce as much content as possible to garner as much web traffic as possible. The companies then make money off of the ads on the “article” pages. Google is responding to the outcry of its users about the low quality of information that has been creeping up in search results by tweaking their algorithm that delivers results, but it is an ongoing struggle. Read more here, if you are interested. Or here. Or here.
Why does this matter in your classroom? If you ever have students use the internet, this should make you think. We all want our students doing quality work, which means we should be expecting them to use quality information. Teaching our students the skill of being able to evaluate the quality of information that they are looking at is an incredibly important life skill that is all to often overlooked.
So how do we teach them what is quality and what is not? The first step is to require quality. Require students to report where they got the information that they used and don’t give credit if they don’t.
The second step is to check their sources when grading to identify the quality. If it is not quality, don’t accept it. Students will only bypass the easy answer for a more quality one if they are required to. (I would be happy to look over your students’ sources if you aren’t sure what you are looking at.)
The third step is to specifically show them how to identify whether a source is quality or not. There just happens to be someone in this building that would love to work with your students on how to do so! (Pssst- me.) There are many aspects of webpages that help to identify quality, with some articulated in this evaluation sheet:
I’d love to work with you and your students to improve the quality of their work and the information that they use! Send me an email and we can discuss how to implement this skill!