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Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria

The variety of resources available to teachers of English as a second or foreign language are expanding daily and include resources for teaching practically every aspect of langauge. However, attitudes about using the Internet as a teaching resource vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers believe the Internet is a wonderful tool for teaching English. Others say that it is the worst place in the world for you to send your students for help with learning the language. The unfortunate truth is that both opinions are correct. Depending on which web sites you choose for your lessons, the Internet can have either a disasterous effect, or it can be a tremendous pedagogical step forward for your teaching and your students' ability to improve their English language skills.

Since the web is unlike any medium before it many teachers fear it. With most major forms of media (T.V., radio, books, and magazines), the content is reviewed by many eyes. This is not so with content published on the Internet. Websites can and do contain material and information that is false and inaccurate. It is up to us as teachers to review and evaluate websites that we plan to use as resources for teaching. Before using any web site with your students, you should make sure to thoroughly review it. In this section, we will examine several essential considerations for you ponder before you use a web site with your students.


A: Who created the site?

A web site can be published by anyone. This spans from content experts to a person that has no idea what they are presenting. It is usually easy to identify the latter since such sites usually dodge the tough topics, have a flagrant agenda or ideology that is evident, and have too much advertising that takes away from any substantive content. You should search for sites that state facts, not opinions.

Do not assume that every site has reliable and valid content. Compare it to what you know about the subject. If you don't know much about the subject, compare the content of a few sites on the same topic. This is a skill that you should share with students, as it will be a vital work-related skill in the future, i.e., to evaluate information as accurate. People who create a web site have a very definite agenda. If you haven't heard of the site before, look for sections such as About Us, Company Information, or Profile. These sections will give you the reason for the site and will sometimes tell you who is responsible for the development of the site. There are many reasons why sites are developed including profit motive, promotion, and even passion for a given topic or issue. Sites created for educational purposes are the sites we are concerned with.

B: Is the web site reliable?

One problem with the web is the volatility of every site on the Internet. In some cases, you cannot be sure that the site you see today will be there in a week or in the next month. You should try to choose sites that have a history. In the Internet world, keep in mind that six months can equate to four years.

In the coming year, you will see a lot of sites specifically designed for Broadband (high-speed access) users. These sites, in some cases, will not work on low speed connections (i.e., 56K or lower). Also, certain sites are made for specifically for certain web browsers and browser plug-ins (i.e., Netscape 4.5 or Internet Explorer 5.0). Thus, using a browser that does not support the capacity of some web sites will diminish the quality of your students' visit. The best idea is to view the sites that you are considering on the same equipment that your students will be using.

C: Who's the site for?

Authors of sites are obviously targeting a specific audience. Most of the time, web developers are targeting the highly educated. In some cases, the reading level of the content maybe too high for your students. Thoroughly review all sections of the site. If it has a great deal of content, randomly review the site in bits and pieces.

The Internet has one barrier, which is slowly disappearing: Language. It seems the current language of the net is English. However, that will change. A lot of sites are actually changing all of their content into different languages; in some cases, they are abandoning English all together. Be aware of this; check the sites that you use frequently to assure they don't change the language.

D: Does the web sites promote learning?

Three things to consider:

1. How is the navigational set up designed?

The navigational set up of some sites is so confusing that you're not even sure where to go. One page that we just rejected to list in the TeAch-nology.com database had icons that stated For Lesson Plans, Click Here! However, when you clicked on that icon you got a listing of the author's favorite subjects to teach. These types of navigation are frustrating. To avoid confusing your students, check the set-up. If it makes sense to you, students should be able to follow.

2. Is the site interactive to the point that it makes students think?

The beauty of the Internet is that it offers a level of interactivity that is equivalent to what students can receive in the classroom. Look for sites that make your students think. Most teachers will use sites that just offer facts. In some cases, this can't be avoided because many times the content that you are looking to present is not offered by any site in an interactive manner. Interactivity is not a pre-requisite; but a site that is interactive is going to keep students' attention.

3. Does it contain inappropriate material?

Most sites police their own content well. But, humans run all sites and humans make mistakes. Almost every site on the Internet has external links to other web sites. This is where you have to be careful. Let's say a site links to www.happy.com. If an adult site buys the name www.happy.com and changes the content, then there's a problem. In most cases, you have to trust that the site will not post any inappropriate links. So, make sure to view all of the content on a site to ensure that it is suitable for your students. Do not take another person's word or opinion about a site since we all have varying degrees of judgement. Trust is a difficult thing on the Internet.

E: The bottom line

As you see there is a great deal to consider when choosing a web site. It seems like too much, but if you consider these simple ideas when choosing your sites, you will find that your experience with students and the web will be much more rewarding.

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