by Joan Rhodes
What do the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and Martin Luther King, Jr. have in common? How might a student find the answer to this question? In today’s classrooms, students would immediately suggest that we “Google” to find the answer. (See http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus and www.martinlutherking.org for further information.) After a cursory look, both sites appear to be organized and informative. However, upon further examination, a critical reader notes that the sites are full of misinformation. Along with other hoax web pages, these sites are examples used to demonstrate the importance of teaching students to consider the accuracy and authenticity of Internet information.
Educators who utilize hoax sites offer students excellent opportunities for developing critical thinking skills as they evaluate Internet content. For example, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus web page, a fictitious site created by Lyle Zapato, was included in a study conducted by the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut. The study found seventh grade students lacking in their ability to recognize an Internet hoax (Krane, 2006). The website called Martin Luther King, Jr. – A True Historical Examination, categorized as a counterfeit site, pretends to be a legitimate source for the purpose of disseminating misinformation (Piper, 2000). In addition to fictitious and counterfeit sites, students need instruction that helps them identify political parody sites (see http://whitehouse.gov1.info) and product sites that narrow content to avoid damaging information related to product performance (Piper, 2000).
What steps should teachers take to ensure that their students can identify credible sources in on-line environments? A number of on-line resources are available to support student learning. The Western Australia Department of Education offers a rich resource for evaluating websites at www.det.wa.edu.au/education/cmis/eval/curriculum/ict/webeval/index.htm#criteria. Teachers can locate relevant readings, links to selected bogus (hoax) websites, and classroom activities to enhance their instruction related to analyzing Internet sites. Additionally, this site offers a number of links to assist teachers and students as they consider criteria for evaluating websites.
One excellent linked resource is Internet Detective, a free, on-line tutorial program located at www.vtstutorials.ac.uk/detective/. The tutorial offers information for critically evaluating websites and quick tips and practical exercises for testing one’s ability to identify credible, accurate information. The site also provides copyright information and the correct citation procedures needed to avoid plagiarism. Offering opportunities to evaluate and create hoax sites using the aforementioned websites enhances students’ ability to recognize reliable sources of information for course work and research.
Krane, B. (2006, November). Researchers find kids need better online academic skills. Retrieved from http://advance.uconn.edu/2006/061113/06111308.htm
Piper, P. (2000). Better read that again: Web hoaxes and misinformation. Searcher, 8(8), Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/sep00/piper.htm
Joan Rhodes is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Reading Program group at Virginia Commonwealth University.
This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).