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Is the Internet a Reliable Source for History Content?

Map of the internet, OPTE Project

What is your view on the reliability of the Internet when it comes to studying history?


It may be helpful to give students in all disciplines a basic understanding of what the internet actually is—to differentiate between the medium and the message. According to the How Stuff Works, the internet is "a global collection of networks, both big and small. These networks connect together in many different ways to form the single entity that we know as the Internet."

The Internet is an information medium in the same sense as telephone, television, or radio, but the hardware and connectivity of the Internet enable people to publish and communicate in diverse ways (text, audiovisuals, asynchronously, simultaneously) and to access information through a variety of tools (computers, phones, game consoles, datacards). And some of that information we send and receive via the Internet is reliable, and some isn't.

Students need criteria or rubrics for evaluating websites—just as they do for other sources.

So many exciting materials are online for learning and teaching history, but students need to learn how to evaluate them—just as they should query information in books, newspapers and magazines, for example. Does the information come from a reputable institution or author? Can you check the information? Do the materials or information seem biased?

Kathy Schrock's guide for Educators offers rubrics for evaluating websites for elementary, middle, and secondary students as well as for teachers and for specific content types such as virtual tours, blogs, and podcasts. (Some are translated into Spanish.) Schrock also links to articles on web site evaluation and to rubrics designed by other educators.

For older students, the Cornell University Library offers Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools with guided questions from looking at the URL to evaluating bias, sources, and author credentials.

As educator Michelle Herczog points out in the teachinghistory.org Roundable, 21st-Century Skills and the Learning of History, "Education as a paradigm needs to change from acquiring knowledge, to finding, understanding, and using knowledge to become responsible, engaged members of the human race capable of solving complex problems in a complex world."

So, as they explore the reliability of history materials available online, students are practicing skills that translate to other curricula and to their lives outside of the classroom.