Many people now do a great deal of their reading, particularly for research, online. This includes using apps on smartphones for the news etc. Pupils as young as year 7 are expected to “assess the quality and reliability of information on web pages, considering its origins and verifying accuracy”. At school, younger pupils are often given suggested websites for their research but work undertaken at home might not be so directed.
Here are some ideas to help. All the images below can be enlarged if you click on them.
Searching for Information
Using Google, Bing or other search engines can cause problems if you don’t know how to navigate the site.
One of the biggest issues for younger pupils is that much of the information is simply too complicated to understand. Adding “for kids” to a search will usually bring up simpler information.
It is important to be able to understand the search results.
To find out how to make Google searches more precise – check out their Inside Search page.
Assessing the Quality and Reliability of Information Online
This huge online encyclopedia has become the go-to research resources for lots of us. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by a large number of unpaid volunteers. Whilst this mean that the information may be incorrect, it also means that incorrect information is generally flagged up and corrected quickly. Generally Wikipedia can be an excellent resource for background information. The important thing for understanding reliability is to check the sources of the information at the bottom of the page. Here are just a snapshot of the Wikipedia sources for the solar system.
Older pupils doing research for projects, particularly in 6th form should read and reference these sources NOT Wikipedia.
As mentioned in the image above, Wikipedia can be far too complicated for younger pupils. Simple Wikipedia has been created for children and people learning English to use. It is far more limited but still has a lot of very useful information.
How Do You Know if a Site is Reliable?
One of the first things to check is the last part of the website address (the URL). (Note the .wales domain has recently been launched).
- .gov.uk or .gov.wales – is a UK government website. E.g. the Welsh Government gov.wales, Rhondda Cynon Taff council www.rctcbc.gov.uk or the UK Government www.gov.uk This will be reliable information.
- .co.uk or .co.wales – companies based in the UK or Wales such as www.bbc.co.uk – the reliability depends on other things – see below.
- .com – companies based usually in America such as apple.com. Also used for lots of blog and social media sites.
- .ac.uk is an academic institution such as a university (www.cardiff.ac.uk) – should be reliable.
- .org.uk – generally used for charities etc. but not always.
Rules for checking reliability
- Is the site a government or university website? These are reliable.
- If the site is a company or other organisation – do you trust them offline? For example we generally trust the BBC or the Guardian to have reliable information.
- Can you see who wrote the actual article? Do you trust them? See the section on blogs below as well.
- If you are not sure about the reliability of the site, check other sites. If several websites have the same information on it could mean that the information is more reliable. However it could ALSO mean that it has been copied!
- Trust your instincts – THINK! This applies especially when searching for images. Click the image below to see what came up when searching for an image of “city in Wales”. Some of these are clearly NOT Wales. (Hint – searching for “city in wales” would give just cities in Wales – otherwise Google is matching “city” and “wales” separately).
Many .com sites are blogs – anyone can write a blog and sometimes the contents are not very reliable! Some experts (such as Professor Brian Cox) write blogs and providing you are sure the site is genuine, this should be reliable.
Blogs may be hosted by a news site such as the Guardian and will be written by their journalists. Again these are usually reliable. News websites often live blog current events by having a reporter on the ground reporting directly and also taking reliable information from Twitter and social networks. These can give very reliable and timely information.
However the big issue with blogs is that they are frequently people’s opinions rather than fact.