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Teaching Adolescents How to Evaluate the Quality of Online Information

Three students discuss information they’re reading on a laptop.

Use these strategies to help middle and high school students identify relevance, accuracy, bias, and reliability in the content they read.

An essential part of online research is the ability to critically evaluate information. This includes the ability to assess its level of accuracy, reliability, and bias. In 2012, my colleagues and I assessed 770 seventh graders in two states to study these areas, and the results definitely got our attention. Unfortunately, over 70 percent of the students’ responses suggested that:

  • Middle school students are more concerned with content relevance than with credibility
  • They rarely attend to source features such as author, venue, or publication type to evaluate reliability and author perspective

When they do refer to source features in their explanations, their judgments are often vague, superficial, and lacking in reasoned justificationOther studies highlight similar shortcomings of high school and college students in these areas (see, for example, a 2016 study from Stanford). From my perspective, the problem is not likely to go away without intervention during regular content area instruction.

Other studies highlight similar shortcomings of high school and college students in these areas (see, for example, a 2016 study from Stanford). From my perspective, the problem is not likely to go away without intervention during regular content area instruction.

So what can you do to more explicitly teach adolescents how to evaluate the quality of online information?

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