Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Behind the Books: Is the Internet Reliable?

Even a first grader knows the answer to this question. Sometimes.

But kids vary in their ability to know how to deal with this reality. Most know that Wikipedia can’t be trusted, for instance. But beyond that, many aren’t sure how to evaluate sites. So today I’m sharing a tip that I hope kids everywhere will start using.

Think before you click.

What does that mean? After you have done a search on your browser of choice but before you start clicking on individual sites, take a minute to look at the list.

First, look at the domain names—the last three letters in a website’s address.

.com
.net
.biz

.org
.edu
.gov

Every third grader should know how to identify a domain name, and they should know what the three letters stand for. For example, the first three listed above indicate that the website is owned and maintained by a business or company.

Are these sites reliable? Well, kids should ask themselves, what is the main goal of a business? To sell something and make money. So then, is providing accurate information a priority for them? Not necessarily.

But by and large, organizations, educational institutions, and the government are committed to gathering and sharing reliable information. They make it a priority to check the accuracy of their content and to update their websites as necessary.  

So if you’re doing a report on the human heart, it’s okay to trust the American Heart Association, but avoid sites that sell love potions.

And if you are doing a report on giraffes, you can trust information from the San Diego Zoo or the National Geographic Society. But stay away from sites that well stuffed giraffes.

By thinking about the motivation of the people maintaining a site, students can make better choices when using the Internet for research.

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