Web Evaluation: Does This Website Smell Funny to You?

One of my friends spent this past weekend working with her 2nd grade daughter on a research project. While her daughter flew through the arts and crafts portion and was able to handwrite the “sloppy copy” of her presentation, she struggled when it came to typing the final draft. She didn’t know where the period was. She didn’t know how to use the shift key (and then declared that turning caps lock on and off was far superior and easier than using the shift key). Typing was taking a lot longer than expected and it was tiring her out. My friend ended up sharing the typing duties with her daughter (who had to dictate from her “sloppy copy”).

This reminded me how easy it is to overestimate our students’ abilities when it comes to technology. The general assumption is that they arrive in the world with an innate knowledge of how to operate all things digital. It’s not until you work with students that you begin to see how much guidance and instruction they really need.

One of my favorite things to work on with students in this area is website evaluation. They all have a very strong belief that they know how and where to find any information they need online. Almost all of my students arrive at my school with one simple rule for choosing online sources: Don’t use Wikipedia. This has been drilled into them by almost every teacher who has assigned them a research project. But beyond that, they tend to assume that if it’s online, it must be true.

When working with older students (8th through 12th grade), I’ve always relied on the CRAAP Test (pdf) from California State University Chico. And I will admit I enjoy starting a lesson by telling them, “Today’s class is going to be CRAAP-tastic” (especially if my supervisor is observing me for that class).

As wonderful a tool as it is, the CRAAP Test has a sophistication (despite its name) that makes it inaccessible for the 5th through 7th grade. I wanted something easier for them.

(Perhaps at this point I should pause to let you know that my school, while co-ed, is predominantly boys – they make up about 88% of our student population. And sometimes lesson planning is all about knowing your audience.)

So in the middle school Information Skills class, we now teach the FART Test. Needless to say, when the idea is first introduced we lose about 5 minutes of class to giggles and various fart noises. But then we can get down to the serious business of evaluation.

F: Is the site Friendly to the eyes? Is it easy to read? Did the creator take time to make a well designed website? Is the site free of lots of flashy things that distract you from the text? If someone doesn’t bother to present the information in a neat fashion, the information may not be worth using.

A: Does the Author have Authority? Is he an expert on the issue? Does the author identify herself and give you a way to contact her and ask a question? If someone doesn’t bother to take credit for his work, that may be a sign that he doesn’t want to be connected to it.

R: Is the information Repeated elsewhere? Does the author cite her sources so you can verify her information? If you find the most fascinating tidbit of information, but only one person claims to know it, and can’t tell you where she learned that, and no other source confirms it, it’s probably not a piece of information you want to use.

T: Is the information Timely? When was the information published? Is your topic time sensitive? Has the website been updated recently? Old information doesn’t help with current issue research and websites that have been abandoned may not be the best sources.

Finally, you have to ask yourself, does something smell bad about this site?

The nice thing about the FART Test is that it pretty well slides in the CRAAP Test as the students get older. It’s something the students remember easily. Each year I start the year off by having the returning 8th grade students teach the concept to new students who have joined their class. They make posters to hang in the middle school classrooms as a reminder that web evaluation belongs everywhere, not just in the library. It’s a great refresher and an ice breaker.

What fun lessons do you go to for web evaluation?

Author: Amy Gillespie

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

10 replies

  1. I’ve looked for a younger version of the CRAAP test before with no success. Thank you for sharing the FART test! That acronym will be perfect for helping them retain their new website evaluation knowledge.

  2. As a mom I’m definitely going to share this with my son! As a college librarian this will come in handy at the reference desk, when I need something concise yet engaging to pass along quickly. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Um…about Wikipedia…as a former teacher myself, I say don’t be so fast to diss it totally. I know many college professors who use it to find or verify a quick fact or two.

    One of my former colleagues once said that it’s a great place to start, but a terrible place to end. I also recently heard that it’s information good enough to settle a bar bet, but not necessarily something you’d want to cite in your dissertation.

    That being said, though, it *can*, however, lead you to other “more reliable” sources if you take the time to check out the information at the end of the piece.

  4. The assumption about Wikipedia is just recycled from the old prejudice about encyclopedias. I always advised students to start at the place with the best summary, use the provided sources and work out to their specific topic. I even urged them to contact the authors of encyclopedia articles and they came back with fabulous primary resources.

  5. There is a better alternative called RADAR that works for all ages. Read more about it here: http://jis.sagepub.com/content/39/4/470.short

  6. The CRAAP Test does work well with MS students – we use it with 6th thru 8th grade and they understand and apply it in writing and technology classes.

  7. As a public librarian, I am always willing to talk about credibility when it comes the the Internet.

    However, I recently advised a school librarian to have her students pick a Wikipedia article and verify the author’s credibility, resources, etc.

    In my opinion, Wikipedia is a good jumping-off point for teaching students how to vet resources.

    Plus, my husband, who has a PhD in polymer science and teaches college-level science, mentioned that the Royal Academy of Science has several Wikipedia articles that are legit.

  8. I think the “don’t use Wikipedia” concept is INTENDED to mean don’t use it in the reference section of your research project because it is still not accepted for academic research and probably never will be given the nature of a wiki. Case in point, my own graduate classes! We’ve been told not to use it, but I responded back to the whole class with some basic information that I am sharing here.

    Wikipedia and it’s users have gotten significantly better about vetting the pages over the past several years. At one time, misinformation was everywhere across the site, but now, Wikipedia has grown up and is significantly less likely that you’ll find lousy info.

    I am an elementary school librarian and I tell my kids they MAY NOT cite it as a source, but they can certainly read the articles to see if they really do like that topic before making a final decision. I tell them I use it ALL THE TIME for general information I am curious about, and I explain that often reading the Wikipedia page will help them get ready to read harder, more academic sources on their topic, whether it is a book or something online! When we want to know about a medical condition, we don’t start with Gray’s Anatomy, we start with Wikipedia or WebMD, which are both easier reads. If we need more info, then we move up to more scholarly texts.

    I also tell them to look at the sources cited at the end of the Wikipedia article to see what sources were used and if those might be helpful to the student. Sometimes you can find a really great resource or two! :-)

  9. I have also seen the CARP test and the same question can be asked – Does this website smell funny (or fishy)?

  10. I teach my middle schoolers the APART method: Authority, Purpose, Accuracy, Relevancy, and Timeliness. It seems to work pretty well, and it’s nice to be able to say, “Did you take that website APART?” – meaning, did you evaluate it.

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