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The Importance of Source Evaluation and Content Credibility Skills for Today’s Students


Effective evaluation of the credibility of sources is more important than ever for students faced with an overwhelming array of content.

Guest post by Patrick J. Walsh

As an author, journalist and former college professor, I am fascinated by the widespread implementation of education technology. The emergence of new modes of instruction is obviously enabling new opportunities for learning, which is both exciting and important in its implications for the future.

Who Says What
Looking toward that future, I tend to see the ongoing evolution of education technology through the filter of the communications theory of the late Harold Lasswell, who described the process of communications as “who says what to whom, through what channel, with what result.”

Source Evaluation and Content Credibility Quote Image

I would venture a guess that most education technology implementations up to now have centered around the latter part of Lasswell’s model — the audience (whom), the media (channel), and the effect (result). I’d also guess that most teachers are probably more concerned about the source (who) and content (what) components of the model.

It is probably not an overstatement to say that the mode of delivery and the results are only as good as the content that’s delivered and the source that created that content.

An Eye on Content
At the center of everything, of course, is the student — continuously bombarded with a bewildering array of sources and an overwhelming amount of content. At the heart of the student’s learning process, there is a crucial need for the development of critical thinking, particularly in the evaluation of sources and the credibility of content.

And when you add in the dynamic nature of open content (for example, see “The Future of Content is an Open Book”), you have an even more imposing sense of just how difficult it is to track and confirm the validity of source materials.

Fortunately, there are already many excellent minds at work on the problem of how to gauge the credibility of online sources. For a few examples, check out:

But do students really think about these issues? In my own experience, I can recall many instances where students would stress out about how to cite an online source; and I often felt bad reminding them that the more important issue was to determine whether the source was worth citing in the first place.

The “Source Check” Solution
So here’s my approach to helping students to develop the skills to “credibility-proof” the content they encounter:

– for younger students (say K-5), there could be an early component of the curriculum that addresses the credibility of source and content, followed by reminders as evaluation issues arise;

– for middle grade and older students, it might be useful to implement a simple “Source check” list into assignments that involve the use of content not explicitly assigned by the instructor.

Distinct from a bibliography or list of works cited, a source check list would simply identify the location and creator of the content. The goal would be to get students to be aware of the evaluation function without explicitly requiring it in every case (which could be done instead with other tools, such as an annotated bibliography).

It seems only natural that the future course of educational technology should move from an initial focus on modes of implementation to more teacher-centric concerns about things like source evaluation and content credibility. What are your concerns in these areas? I’d be fascinated to hear about how you are addressing these issues.

Patrick J. Walsh is the author of Spaceflight: A Historical Encyclopedia (2010) and Echoes Among The Stars (2000). He has published more than 250 articles in print and online publications since the mid-1990s, and produces several web video series about American history (episodes available at http://www.youtube.com/patwalshvideo). His most recent writing can be found online at the Media Intercept blog (http://mediaintercept.blogspot.com).



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