A lot of us take anything they read on the internet at face value. A simple Google search brings us the correct answer to any question we have. Or does it? An internet search might be a good place to start to find out about something, but we shouldn’t just trust the first website result we find. This is especially true when using the internet for research with students. How can you teach them digital literacy and critical thinking skills we all need to survive in the digital world?
One way to demonstrate this to students is to share fake or hoax websites with them. Ask them to analyse a series of websites that you give to them. How trustworthy do they find each one? Don’t forget to mix in a few genuine websites as well, just to keep them on their toes.
Also, do remember to make sure you explain to them at the end that these are fake sites, just in case they go away thinking all of this is true!
Try some of these fake websites out:
All About Explorers : Developed by a group of teachers as a means of teaching students about the Internet. All of the Explorer biographies are fictional. While many of the facts are true or based on truth, many inaccuracies, lies, and even downright absurdity are mixed in indiscriminately. A WebQuest activity has been included as a culminating activity for students to apply their research and critical thinking skills.
Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus : The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America. Their habitat lies on the Eastern side of the Olympic mountain range, adjacent to Hood Canal. Never heard of it? There’s a reason for that. A great-looking site that’s very convincing.
Dihydrogen Monoxide – The Facts : Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide. We know it better as Water. Will the students work this out?
The Jakalope Conspiracy : The Jackalope (Lepus-temperamentalus) is one of the rarest animals in the world. A cross between an extinct pygmy-deer and a species of killer-rabbit, they are extremely shy unless approached. None have ever been captured alive. It’s rubbish of course, but can the students work that out?
Save the Rennets : Did you know Rennets are small hamster like rodents which are intensively factory farmed and slaughtered for the production of cheese? No, me neither!
Aluminium Foil Deflector Beanie : Combat mind reading with this handy aluminium foil cap. You can’t be too careful.
Dog Island : Over 2,500 dogs are already enjoying a better life at Dog Island. Separated from the anxieties of urban life, dogs on Dog Island are healthy dogs who live a natural, healthy and happy life, free from the stress and hardship associated with daily life among humans.
Checking whether stories online are true.
Childnet has created a resource which is designed to support teachers in exploring critical thinking online. The ‘Trust Me’ resource has been created with teachers in mind after hearing from schools that they wanted a resource which would start the conversations around extremism and extreme online content.
A great website for checking a lot of internet myths is Snopes.com. It’s brilliant for debunking a lot of the stories your relatives pass on via Facebook or email. My own rule of thumb is that if a Facebook post ends with “share this to all your friends” it’s invariably rubbish. But do check Snopes before you point that out to your aunt or uncle!
Students could also use the 5W’s of Website Evaluations as explained here by Kathy Shrock.
- Who wrote the pages and are they an expert?
- Is a biography of the author included?How
- can I find out more about the author?
- What does the author say is the purpose of the site?
- What else might the author have in mind for the site?
- What makes the site easy to use?
- What information is included and does thisinformation differ from other sites?
- When was the site created?
- When was the site last updated?
- Where does the information come from?
- Where can I look to find out more about the sponsor of the site?
- Why is this information useful for my purpose?
- Why should I use this information?
- Why is this page better than another?
What other websites can you use with your students? Share some of your favourites in the comments.