The Internet knowledge minefield and validation

The Internet is a mine of useful and useless knowledge. One could say it is a minefield of knowledge. So a key skill for a student, or any Internet user, should be the ability to validate claims on there. Are the things you read true, false, or just true to some extent? Do you ask yourself: How much of a claim is true, and is it relevant to your perspective?

A key research skill is validation of the “knowledge” you find. You can do this by going to: quality sites that are peer reviewed (preferably by experts in the given topic); leading industry publications and organisations; and official sites run by relevant experts and national / international authorities.

Don’t just take the word of a stranger, or a salesman 🙂 Common sense can also help to flag up something that may be inaccurate.

Should we explicitly help our students to develop this core skill, and if so how should we do it?

3 thoughts on “The Internet knowledge minefield and validation

  1. Since almost all students are likely to start (although hopefully not end) their research on Wikipedia, then a review of the “cleanup” messages might help (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Template_messages/Cleanup). These are the boxes at the top of articles that most people ignore, but point-out issues – such as it reading like a press release. An activity where students try to apply these labels to various prepared texts might also be useful.

    There is still a general distrust around Wikipedia, but the nature of its peer review places it higher in my opinion than many published books.

    Students should also be made aware of their own biases when reviewing sources (confirmation bias, the recency effect etc.). But are we any better in our assessment of their work? Expecting each student’s diligent research and analysis to bring them to conclusions that match our own – which we probably formed some time ago and have only made minor adjustments to since.

  2. does this not raise the old issue of work which is still relevent but is so outside of the realms of current thinking on any particular topic due to its progressive approach or lef field thinking. If we limit ourselves or students only to that work which is considered to be within the cannon of established thinking we are not allowing for the occasional eureka moment or other possible advances.

  3. You raise an interesting point James. I’m a keen supporter of creative thinking and innovation, and so I would agree with the idea of facilitating eureka moments.

    In addition to determining the factual accuracy, the validation process may also determine the relevance and appropriateness of a fact on the Internet.

    … and all information may be used to stimulate creative thinking – even if the information is factually incorrect 🙂

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