How can students know whether the information they find online is true or not?
We choose everything—from toothpaste to health care, from education research to instructional strategies—by evaluating information. How do I gauge the effectiveness of our one-to-one laptop program? Which presidential candidate will get us out of this economic slide? Is watching SpongeBob SquarePants bad for my child?
We also make daily decisions about whom to trust with our information. Does this company sell my information to third-party advertisers? Should I share my concerns about a colleague with an administrator? When I’m out of town, should I alert the post office to hold my mail or just ask my neighbor to retrieve it from my mailbox?
The staggering volume and speed with which information is presented and the sophisticated ways in which facts and figures are represented make it practically impossible for an average adult to single-handedly judge accuracy and credibility without guidance. Why are we surprised to learn that bogus communications purporting to be from banks or credit card companies dupe smart adults into supplying personal or account information to scammers? Or to find that a high school senior’s essay cites a 5th grader’s slick-looking web page on the Greek gods? Or to learn that teens are making important life decisions on the basis of seemingly reputable health websites that contain inaccurate reproductive health information (Tolani & Yen, 2010)?
In this participatory digital world, we’re all novices at some point when judging whom to trust. Appearance, credentials, and other indicators of quality that used to serve as shorthand tests of credibility don’t readily transfer online. Our students may acknowledge that Wikipedia is unreliable, but they use it anyway—and so do we.
Read more in the Educational Leadership issue.