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  • Evaluating websites

     Teachers can evaluate web sites merely by considering navigation and usability, authorship, content validity, and student engagement. The following checklist, compiled from several sources, is a summary of criteria for evaluating web sites. The more criteria a site meets, the more likely it is to be a valuable resource.

    Navigation and usability

    First access the site then navigation issues emerge. A good site must have a well designed homepage with a labelled table of contents or site map. Sometimes home pages are so cluttered that it is difficult to know where to start.

    Navigation links within the site need to be easy to find. High- quality sites include search engines to help you find the location of specific material. Non-functioning links to other web sites is a sign that a site is not properly maintained.

    Authorship

    The first clue to authorship comes in the Uniform Resource Locator (web address) extension, the part that comes after the "dot". Does the URL contain com, gov, edu, or org? Of course, there is much more to authorship than the information found in a URL extension. Researching the authority of a web site requires careful examination of the site. High quality sites should enable the user to find out easily about the persons responsible for the contents of the page. What is their affiliation? What are the credentials?

    Sites should also provide a way for users to get in touch with the authors, not only to ask questions but also to verify the legitimacy of the page's sponsor. An email address for the web administrator is good, but a site should also list a phone number and postal address.

    Content validity

    The most important factor to consider when evaluating a web site is the content. Accuracy of scientific and mathematical content is crucial. In addition to looking out for misinformation, teachers also need to evaluate whether the content is comprehensive or cursory. Just because a site has exciting graphics does not mean it has a rich content.

    Web sites should be judged by the same standards we use with other publications. Information should be supported with bibliographies that identify sources used, both to give credit to the authors and to provide readers with avenues for further research. Sites that clearly violate copyright statutes or other laws should not be linked, listed, or recommended.

    Student engagement

    Students cannot become engaged with material they do not understand. The site must get students actively involved in the learning process; that is critical if they are truly going to understand science and mathematics concepts. Many sites look like textbooks and do not use the strengths of web technology. When features are added such as interactive animation, videos, graphical organisers, concept maps, or links to related resources, the online material provides much more than a typical textbook. A good site enriches the student's experience and expands his or her imagination.

    True engagement cannot occur unless students are encouraged to transfer the mathematical or scientific knowledge that they learn into an activity.

    One of the engaging features a web site can offer is the opportunity for students to communicate with scientists or other researchers through the site. Some sites offer other types of interactive opportunities for students, such as data sharing with other students. An example of such a site is the Globe, an online environment, where over 700 schools worldwide work with researchers, teachers and other students to develop an understanding of the global environment (http://www.globe.gov)

    And now for a website that meets most of the criteria mentioned above: http://www.educate.si.edu

    The Smithsonian Institute of Natural History located in Washington hosts in this site. The lesson plans section of Smithsonian education on the web is a collection of classroom ready lessons and activities on topics ranging from ocean ecology to landscape painting. Smithsonian educational materials emphasise inquiry based learning with primary sources and museum collections. The site features photographs and reproductions and guidelines for working with them. Also featured are step by step instructions for interviews, simulations, role-plays and experiments that involve students in active learning.

    The Hindu, 12 August, 2000

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