In order to demonstrate how difficult it can be to evaluate sites considering the lack of context on the Internet, read aloud to your students two articles on the same issue; read one article from a credible newspaper such as The New York Times, and another from a less credible tabloid such as the National Enquirer or Weekly World News. Keep the sources anonymous--don't let your students know where the articles come from. After you read them aloud, have the students discuss which article they found more credible. Then, indicate the sources of the articles, and emphasize that knowing the source is important to evaluating the quality of the information, but that reading articles on the Internet is as anonymous as having them read aloud out of context. (thanks to Jon Leydens)
Direct your students to a Web site that you've already analyzed, preferably one that is questionable for some reason (unreliable author, outdated source, etc.). Have a class discussion about how the reliability and credibility of this source might be determined. Would this be a good resource to use for the upcoming research assignment? Why or why not? After having a class discussion, students could do some research and apply the same criteria to the new sources they find. Ask your students to write a rationale defending why they chose to use the sources they did. Ask students to check out and evaluate their peer's sources, and then discuss whether or not their evaluations are similar or not. To help students find sources, have students research a partner's topic to see if they come up with different results. Once students pick (reliable) sources, talk about how these sources can be used within a research essay. If it is an obviously biased source, how could the student introduce the source while indicating the bias? Discuss the types of sources the students have picked (fact, opinion, editorial) and how these different types should be used, how different types of sources could influence their writing, and how different types of sources could influence their own credibility. Have students complete a treasure hunt before researching their own topic, in order to help them get familiar with maneuvering on the Web. Have them write down the Web addresses as they come across each of the following: three sites that have Fort Collins in the title; the CSU library page; several sites relating to the class topic, a specific unit, or an individual topic; the homepage of a major US newspaper like The Washington Post; a map of Colorado or a street map of Fort Collins, etc. You could have them do this in groups or individually. Then, ask them to evaluate the sources they found on their treasure hunt. Students could walk through several different writing tutorials that are listed under several Writing Center homepages, or surf through some of the links provided on this page about using the Internet. Have students who are more familiar with the Internet help students who are less familiar. Remember, though, that even those students who have been surfing the Web for years may not know how to search productively. If your class is researching the same of similar topics, create a site that provides links to quality sites that you have already evaluated.