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Evaluating Content Validity on the Internet


The Internet provides an exciting medium available to classrooms. It has been described as "a worldwide personal library," (Ellsworth, p. 7) one that allows for retrieval of new information, data, images, and software. Sometimes this data is only available online. In addition, the interactivity can provide a whole new depth of experience for students. Projects can be experienced in real-time, communication can occur with sites around the world, students can learn and develop totally new search abilities. This type of learning can be very engaging and invigorating for students as well as teachers.

While the Internet combines the permanence and convenience of text with the timeliness of the electronic media, it also provides many new challenges to overcome. Because the World Wide Web has exploded so quickly, there are no guidelines for material that is published in the medium. The world of print has evolved a set of guidelines through editorial processes and review boards so that readers can expect a certain quality with published works. When a reader purchases the New York Times or a National Geographic, there is a certain expectation about the type of material that will be included. On the Internet, anyone can publish whatever they desire.

This presents a serious issue for the educator who wishes to incorporate the rich possibilities for learning presented by the Internet. "Many genre categories exist as sources for Internet sites including universities, commercial services, electronic journals and commercial magazines, special interest groups, companies and organizations, advertising pages, personal pages, search engines, software sites, city and state pages, federal government pages, and special interest groups." (Caruso, p. 25). Just as educators need to determine if textbooks or supplemental materials are appropriate and valid for their classrooms, so will Internet sites need to be assessed.

Six categories are presented here to help in assessing the validity of an Internet site: Purpose, Authorship, Currency, Content, Site Design, and Technical Issues.

Purpose of the site

The purpose of a site will be crucial information in order for the teacher and student to evaluate the usefulness of the material contained within that site. The purpose should serve the intent of the lesson, while expanding upon the information provided through other resources, such as print materials. Without a clear goal in mind, the Internet can become a mindless activity rather than a clear curricular connection.



Determining who is responsible for the information will be extremely important. Because anyone can publish a Web page, the user will need to take steps to identify the author. There may be times that a student author will be pertinent to what the class is studying, but other situations that will call for a more documented body of information.



Technological information changes very frequently, especially on the Internet. Educators need to determine if there is any stability to an Internet site so that the site is likely to still be available when trying to incorporate the material into lesson plans.



Because there are no reliable means currently available to set standards or to review information on the Internet, educators need to be able to assess the type of material located in a site to determine if the material is valid and appropriate for a classroom setting.

Is the content useful, unique, accurate rather than "derivative, repetitious, doubtful"? (Collins, p. 124).

Does the content material make the visit worthwhile and expand or add to information found in other sources such as in printed publications?


Site Design

The site should allow good access to information in an appealing but clear manner. The user should be able to navigate within the site without getting lost and have the ability to return to the home page easily. Added features such as graphics and multimedia should enhance the content.


Technical Issues

Technical issues will influence the usability of a site that may include outstanding content but that has overriding technical issues will not be usable within the scope of a classroom period. Similarly, students may not have much tolerance for sites that don't work.

Educators will need to spend time assessing Internet sites before incorporating them into curricular lessons. A sample evaluation form for website review can be found at Kathy Even with this advanced preparation, students may inadvertently stumble into sites that contain inappropriate material. The wise teacher will have a policy in place for how to handle this situation. In addition, students will need to be taught how to do their own critical reviewing of information or of sites. Evaluation forms for students can be found at Kathy Schrock's Guide.  In addition, this site gives a wealth of information on how to assess student web pages.

To be able to connect students to the whole world provides some wonderful new types of opportunities. The interactive nature will provide a different type of experience than straight book learning. Collaborative projects can be developed for works in progress. However this brings new responsibilities as well. Educators will need to develop ways to monitor the sites that students are using, work with students in learning how to make their own critical decisions about quality, and make wise decisions about how the Internet is brought into the classroom.



Association for Library Service to Children. "Selection Criteria: How to Tell if You Are Looking at a Great Web Site." [Online, Available, 1998]

Caruso, Carol. "Before You Cite a Site." Educational Leadership. November, 1997.

Collins, Boyd R. "Beyond Cruising: Reviewing." Library Journal 121, no. 3 (February 15, 1996):122-24.

Ellsworth, Jill H. Education on the Internet. Indianapolis: Sams Publishing, 1994.

Grassian, Esther. "Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources." [Online] Available, May 5, 1998

McLachlan, Karen. "WWW CyberGuide Ratings for Content Evaluation." [Online] Available, 1996.

Kirk, Elizabeth. "Practical Steps in Evaluating Internet Resources." [Online] Available, May 26, 2003.

Robin, Bernard and Elissa Keeler and Robert Miller. Educator's Guide to the Web. New York: Holt and Co., 1997.

Scholz-Crane, Ann. "Evaluating World Wide Web Information." [Online] Available, March 7, 1997.

Schrock, Kathleen. "Critical Evaluation Survey." [Online] Available.,May 26, 2003.

Tillman, Hope N.. "Evaluating Quality on the Net." [Online} Available, July 20, 2003.

Wilkinson, Gene L. and Lisa T. Bennett and Kevin M. Oliver. "Evaluating the Quality of Internet Information Sources: Consolidated Listing of Evaluation Criteria and Quality Indicators." [Online] Available
(, May 19, 1997.




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