Unit 5: Evaluating search results

The concept

Once we’ve searched, how do we know if the websites listed at the top of the results page are the best resources?

Materializing answers from the air turns out to be the easy part – the part a machine can do. The real difficulty kicks in when you click down into your search results. At that point, it’s up to you to sort the accurate bits from the misinfo, disinfo, spam, scams, urban legends, and hoaxes. “Crap detection,” as Hemingway called it half a century ago, is more important than ever before – Howard Rheingold

Rheingold offers these tips for critical consumption in his book, Net Smart :

  • Think like a detective
  • Search to learn – go beyond one search engine, one search, one page
  • Check up on the authors – authority/credibility
  • Triangulate searches – check facts with 3 sources
  • Look for differing/other opinions.

To get the most out of any search engine, it pays to understand how it generates results – each search engine has its own method for doing this.

Watch this video from Matt Cutts. It offers a basic explanation of Google’s formula for determining which sites to display (and in what order) when someone performs a search.

If you want a little more information about how Google Search works, have a look at Google’s Inside Search infographic.

“Crap detection” tools

How do you evaluate the resources offered to you by your favourite search engine? There are lots of sites offering resource evaluation tools and checklists, so you might want to put your advanced search skills to work to find one that suits your needs best. Here are a few to get you started:

Ergo: The State Library of Victoria’s ergo site is designed for students, with guides to essay writing, research and study skills as well as over 700 digitised resources from the Library’s collections. There are a number of tips about research skills, organising information and essay writing in the Learn skills section including a whole section on Selecting Resources.

The CARS Concept: (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) is easy to use. Andy Spink‘s checklist includes questions to consider for each of the points.

The CRAP Test: (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/Point of View)  has an interesting acronym and has a slightly different, but equally valid, focus. Ken Orenic‘s wiki  offers questions to consider if you want to use the CRAP test.

5Ws: Wonderful Kathy Shrock has created and shared a simple 5 Ws of Web Site Evaluation chart with student checklists for different age groups.

Scholarly Content: For older students needing to distinguish between popular and scholarly content, USC Berkeley created How to evaluate if something is scholarly content, a short, online interactive tutorial.

Teaching search and evaluation to students

For those who need to teach search skills and evaluation to students, there are some quality tools and sites available.

Google Search Education provides some great tips and activities to help you make your searches more effective, and contains lesson plans that actively get students using search skills. Its Lesson plan map includes:

  • Understanding search results
  • Evaluating credibility of sources.

The Educator’s section of Common Sense Media also offers lessons involving search/find/evaluate sources under Information Literacy. Check out their lessons via their excellent K-12 Scope and Sequence chart.

21st Century’s Evaluation Wizard is an interactive website for older students that guides users through the evaluation process.

Glean WhoIs? steps users through a process to investigate a website’s owner and author.
Commonsense Media offer lesson plans on resource evaluation. You can access them via their Scope and Sequence chart. Select “Information Literacy” to highlight the most relevant lessons, including:
  • Rating websites (Years 3-5)
  • Identifying high quality websites (Yrs 6-8).

Hoax Sites

Including hoax sites in a lesson is a great way to encourage students to apply their comprehension strategies and critical analysis skills to evaluating resources. Hoax sites have often been designed by academics and include an element of fun or humour if examined closely.  Some, such as the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, are well-known now but there are plenty out there to choose from.

Read, Write, Think  has Evaluating resources lesson plans involving hoax sites. The lessons are appropriate for secondary students.

Students also receive and read information from friends and via social media. You can help them to sort fact from hoax, urban myth and scams with sites like Snopes.

The task

Time to test those evaluation skills! Your task is to:

  • Find and post a trusted web resource
  • How do you know it’s reliable? Use one of the “crap detection” tools listed above.
  • Record your findings in your blog post, but also tell us about your thought process – how did you go about evaluating this resource? How might you use this process with students or colleagues?

Now go on to the next task – Using tags.


Go back to unit overview.