Helping sort the wheat from the chaff

One of our key jobs in K-12 education is helping students become well-informed, "discerning" (to use a word from our school district's vision statement) users of technology. While this means getting young people to look beyond the first three hits on Google, it much more directly relates to teaching students to evaluate web-based resources.

One of our key jobs in K-12 education is helping students become well-informed, "discerning" (to use a word from our school district's vision statement) users of technology. While this means getting young people to look beyond the first three hits on Google, it much more directly relates to teaching students to evaluate web-based resources.

As the number of web pages, blogs, wikis, and other sites increases, even the most "discerning" of users can struggle to navigate the necessary cross-references and knowledge stores to verify the integrity of internet sources. Blogs pose a particular problem since even the best of the breed, by design, tend to include a mix of editorial commentary, fact, and opinion. This is not a bad thing, in and of itself; blogs contribute to a broader understanding of the many viewpoints and consequences surrounding a given set of facts.

However, as Ars Technica points out,

The proliferation of widespread Internet access has enabled everyone and their dog to start a website, but not every one is filled with what some of us would describe as "credible" information.

Fortunately, the Ars contributor goes on to describe a new system under development at the Austrian "Know-Center" that can rank blogs by credibility. While still in its infancy, the system compares blogs to mainstream media, checking for fact content. Of course, the article points out an important shortcoming in this approach:

comparing the facts and opinions posted on blogs to the mainstream media may not be the best way to determine credibility...people can write openly on almost any topic, and they may disagree heavily with the angle presented by certain news sources. Those people will undoubtedly be miffed at automatically being categorized as "little credible" just because their opinions may differ.

It appears that others are interested as well in algorithmically evaluating Internet sources. Two other university research groups presented findings this week at the World Wide Web conference in Madrid. While none of the three does the job of "discerning" for us, it certainly looks as though we are a few steps closer to providing better tools to sort the Internet wheat from the chaff.