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This article was originally published in Multicultural Perspectives, Vol. 2, No. 3.
Most of the criteria used to assess and evaluate traditional educational media such as textbooks and films can be directly applied to Web sites as well. These include: accuracy of the information, critical analysis of possible bias, credibility of the author and/or publishing source, appropriateness and accessibility (in terms of language) to the specified audience, timeliness, relevance to a particular subject area, validity of content, and effectiveness of aesthetic aspects.
Still, for a variety reasons, even deeper considerations for some traditional educational evaluation criteria, along with several new criteria, must be incorporated into current models to holistically evaluate products of this fairly new cyber-medium. For example, unlike traditional educational media such as films, textbooks, and journals - all of which are usually subject to a rigorous review process before being made widely available to teachers and students - virtually anybody with access to a Web server can create an educational Web site.
Generally, no entity comparable to a publishing company exists to help ensure the credibility or expertise of educational Web designers or authors. Likewise, no formal review board examines the validity of the information on most educational Web sites. So while it remains important for educators to constantly perform our own assessments of materials we use in our classrooms, this responsibility is intensified when it comes to Internet media. According to Kathy Schrock, a leading expert of educational Web development, assessment, and critique:
Unlike the media center, there are no media specialists to sort out the valuable information from the substandard information. With more than 350 million documents available on the Web alone, finding relevant information online can be daunting. Therefore, the ability to critically evaluate information is an invaluable skill in this information age (1998).Other complications to the assessment of Web sites exist within the structure of the medium itself. In no other medium is the line between commercial and informational distinctions so blatantly blurry. It is often difficult to ascertain whether a particular site is a purely commercial venture or a purely educational venture. In fact, it may be the case that no site fits the latter extreme. Again, since many Web sites are produced by unfamiliar sources, we, the users, must look deeper to uncover the bias of online educational products. We are reminded of important critical questions to consider in assessing educational media in general: Who produced this Web site? With what motivation? Who is funding the project? Why? Whose voices are being included, whose voices are being excluded, and for what purpose?
In addition, unlike the content of books or films, the information on Web sites is not static. Used responsibly, this can be a strength of Web sites. Information can be updated any time, new information can be added, and old information can be removed. Concurrently, such capabilities introduce the troubling possibility that I will send my students to a site that offered a new perspective on World War II last week, and find that the site is being run by a white supremacy group this week.
With this new set of challenges, it is imperative that new approaches for evaluating educational Web sites emerge focus special attention on the characteristics that differentiate the medium from other educational media.
Why a Multicultural Approach for Evaluating Web Sites?
Two related factors highlight the need for a multicultural approach for evaluating educational Web sites. First, despite (or because of) the troubling number of educators who continue to equate it with Black History Month or an annual diversity festival, we must continue to push toward an actualization of multicultural education that examines, critiques, and transforms all aspects of education. A tight focus only on curriculum or teaching styles or any one aspect of education does not constitute multicultural education, as stated so clearly by James Banks (1993; p. 25):
Multicultural education views the school as a social system that consists of highly interrelated parts and variables. Therefore, in order to transform the school to bring about educational equality, all the major components of the school must be substantially changed. A focus on any one variable in the school, such as the formalized curriculum, will not implement multicultural education.A second factor relates to the clear intersections between Internet media and multicultural teaching and learning practices. As I pointed out in a previous article in Multicultural Perspectives (Gorski, 1999), the Web transcends virtually all other educational media in its capacity for facilitating intercultural, interactive and collaborative teaching and learning. For example, the Web has the potential to facilitate a new level of interactive teaching and learning:
Imagine the added educational value of textbooks if the authors were willing to provide their addresses and phone numbers, just in case one of your students has a question regarding the book's contents. Now imagine a network of students and teachers from a myriad of different cultures and backgrounds from around the world who have read the book, sharing their questions and ideas and exchanging resources for further learning on the topic. Moreover, imagine yourself and your students interacting with the people whose experiences are described in a particular section of your text book: actual Holocaust survivors, American Indians presently living on reservations, Japanese immigrants to America, individuals who lived through the Great Depression, etc... Such are the interactive educational opportunities made possible via the Internet... (p. 45)
Evaluation measures must assess Web media in this context, asking, "Does this site take advantage of the multiculturality inherent in Web media, or does it simply reproduce something that can be accomplished through print, film, or other media?"
A short consideration of current approaches for evaluating educational Web sites will provide points of critique and consideration for the development a new approach.
For the past several years, university librarians, educational and instructional technologists, and Web developers have created checklists, outlines, and other schema for evaluating Web resources. The range and variation of these models highlight the challenge of creating effective tools for evaluating a phenomenon and medium still in a state of infancy.
Some models, such as Bruce Leland's Evaluating Web Sites: A Guide for Writers (1998), Joe Landsberger's Evaluating Website Content (1999), and Elizabeth E. Kirk's Evaluating Information Found on the Internet (1999) rely solely on criteria developed for evaluating print resources. Though each of them, in introductions to their models, acknowledges the features differentiating the Web from other media, all three fail to include evaluation criteria that focus on these features. Their criteria include Authority, Currency, Bias, Accuracy and Credibility.
Other existing models for evaluating educational Web sites place emphasis on the unique characteristics, opportunities, and challenges of the medium. Esther Grassian's Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources (1998) attempts to narrow the proverbial chasm between education theory and instructional technology by including several items dealing with the effectiveness of a site's educational and graphical design. The staff of McIntyre Library at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (1999) add a new dimension to the assessment process by including a "Comparability" criterion that asks whether comparable resources can be found in more traditional media, and whether those are more valuable and practical for the intended use. Their Ten C's for Evaluating Internet Sources also assesses the extent to which information on a site is updated, an important item for non-static Web media. Schrock's Teaching Media Literacy in the Age of the Internet (1999) contains a list of 26 evaluation criteria for teachers. Many focus on distinct characteristics of the Internet, including:
These models, by acknowledging and addressing the characteristics that differentiate the Web from other educational media, represent a significant step in the improvement of educational Web site evaluation.
Grassian (1998) and Schrock (1999) journey a step further, each introducing at least one criterion that starts to examine important multicultural principles as actualized (or not actualized) in educational sites. Both include an item on accessibility for differently-abled users (e.g., text-only versions, large fonts, etc.). Schrock and the McIntyre Library staff at UW-Eau Claire mention the importance of applying critical thinking skills - both for evaluating sites and for preparing students to process information they find on sites.
Still, every model and approach I examined fails to assess the extent to which educational Web sites utilize the multicultural potentialities of the Internet medium. Furthermore, they fail to address nearly all multicultural teaching and learning principles: attention to varied learning styles, engagement and inclusion of diverse and divergent perspectives, active and participatory teaching and learning, etc. An approach grounded in these and other principles of multicultural education must both reconsider general educational product evaluation criteria and incorporate new criteria that examine the multicultural-educational worth of individual Web sites.
Toward a New Approach--Criteria Categories
Through an understanding of educational evaluation, multicultural education, and the Web as an educational medium, I developed a list of seven criteria categories to help guide a multicultural approach for evaluating educational Web sites:
Relevance and Appropriateness. Too often, a tendency exists in the field of educational technology to use new technology for the sake of using new technology, without a particular need or sense for how it will improve curricula or pedagogy. So while this category may appear to be an obvious first step in assessing a Web site or any educational product, it is also an important step in determining the contextual strength(s) or weakness(es) of a particular medium. It explores the extent to which the medium, content and target audience of a site are relevant and appropriate to your needs and target audience.
Credibility. One cannot assume credibility or expertise in regards to a Web site as readily as they might with a textbook (although similar questions should be asked about textbook writers). We must be conscious of credibility both in terms of the author's authority and the trustworthiness of a site's content. Bias Identification. The focus should not only be on what information is included on a site - we must remember to consider what is NOT included, and the related implications. This criteria category critically examines the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of a site.
Accuracy. The foundation of a multicultural curriculum is accuracy and completeness. This category addresses both of these intertwined concepts.
Accessibility. The Internet was originally designed to provide people access to each other and information. If a resource is inaccessible because of coding problems or incompatibility with certain browsers or special-needs users, it fails to meet even the minimum requirements for an effective educational tool. And if a site author or sponsor is inaccessible through the site, she or he fails to take advantage of the fundamental nature of the inherently interactive Internet technology. This category also reminds us that the supposed "global classroom" is globally exclusive of those who cannot afford to participate or who do not have access for some other reason - an important, but often forgotten point of dialogue related to the Internet.
Navigability. If your students cannot find their way around a site, it will not take long for collective disengagement to ensue.
Multiculturality. The Web has the capability to house educational opportunities consistent with the principles of multicultural teaching and learning to a greater extent than any other medium. Educational sites should reflect this capability. Likewise, Web sites, like other educational media, should reflect multicultural teaching and learning principles.
What follows is a set of questions to guide your assessment of educational Web sites from a multicultural perspective. Some will be more relevant than others depending on what type of resource you are looking for and how you plan to use it. I have not included a rating scale because I believe it is more effective to use your own experience in getting an overall, holistic sense for whether a particular site will be valuable in your classroom.
Relevance and Appropriateness
1. Is the site's content relevant to your needs?
2. Is the Web medium appropriate and necessary for your needs?
3. Is the target age group clearly indicated and consistent with the age range of your students?
4. Are the mission and the scope of the site clearly indicated and relevant to your purposes?
5. Are graphic images appropriate for your students' age group?
6. Is the content timely and updated reasonably often?
1. Is the author of the site clearly indicated?
2. Is the author's experience in the content area sufficient?
3. Is the site author and/or sponsor a known entity?
4. Is there evidence of quality control?
5. Is the site or site author affiliated with an identified educational organization?
1. Does the site include a statement about the author or sponsoring organization that helps identify potential bias?
2. Is the site authored or sponsored by some person or organization with a known position regarding the content? If not, is their position clearly stated?
3. Is the primary purpose of the site commercial, and if so, how might this interest be informing content?
4. Does the site include forums for users to discuss its content and present divergent perspectives?
1. Does the site contain obvious content errors or omissions?
2. If information on the site is time-sensitive, is it routinely updated to incorporate new and follow-up information?
3. Does the site provide or invite diverse perspectives, or does it rely a tightly defined single view for understanding its topic?
4. Are sources within the site clearly cited?
1. Is the site free of coding bugs?
2. Does the site load reasonably fast?
3. Is the author or sponsoring organization accessible to answer your questions, or those of your students, via email or online form?
4. Is contact information provided for the author or sponsoring organization?
5. Does the site take into consideration the needs of differently-abled students (e.g. non-frames version and other considerations)?
1. Is the site organization intuitive?
2. Is the necessity of scrolling kept to a minimum?
3. Is navigation simple and obvious?
4. Are navigation bars provided to allow users to jump to different places within the site?
1. Does the site use a variety of media and styles to effectively engage students with varying learning styles?
2. Does the site encourage interaction between author and user or among users?
3. Does the site encourage participation among users through intercultural interactive or collaborative opportunities?
4. Does the site invite critical examination or divergent perspectives through interactive forums or online evaluation instruments?
5. Does the site provide voice to other perspectives through links or other connections?
6. Is the site free of material that may be oppressive to one or more groups of students?
Banks, J. (1993). Multicultural education: Characteristics and goals. In Banks, J. and Banks, C. (Eds.), Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Gorski, P. (1999). The multiculturality of the world wide web. Multicultural Perspectives, 1 (3), 44-46.
Grassian, E. (1999). Thinking critically about world wide web resources. http://www.library.ucla.edu/libraries/college/instruct/web/critical.htm (December 13, 1999).
Kirk, E. (1999). Evaluating information found on the Internet. http://milton.mse.jhu.edu:8001/research/education/net.html (December 13, 1999).
Leland, B. (1998). Evaluating web sites: A guide for writers. http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfbhl/evaluate.htm (December 13, 1999).
Landsberger, J. (1999). Evaluating website content. http://www.iss.stthomas.edu/webtruth/evaluate.htm (December 13, 1999).
McIntyre Library Staff at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. (1999). Ten c's for evaluating Internet resources. http://www.uwec.edu/Admin/Library/Guides/tencs.html (December 13, 1999).
Schrock, K. (1999). Teaching media literacy in the age of the Internet. Classroom Connect, (December 1998/January 1999), 4-6.
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