Online College Tips: Evaluating Web Resources

Introduction 

Students use the Web for both educational and personal purposes. For someone looking for restaurant reviews and dining guides, government sites and journal publications will be of no use. For someone looking for information on financial trend analysis, commercial sites and personal blogs may have little to no use. 

To get exactly what they need, students must understand the structure of various web resources. Every web resource has its specific use. Thus, students should be familiar with respective web resource’s utility to harness their potentials. Students familiar with both the educational and personal uses of all web resources can continue to update their general knowledge and specific areas of study. 

Web Resource 1: Personal Blogs 

Of the recent developments in the Internet, one of the most striking is blogging. Blogs have become a medium where consumers and commercial establishments, reading and writing, and public and private spaces come together. Bloggers use their personal blogs to write responses to items they have read, places they visited and even their take on recent political and economic developments.

Positively speaking, blogs can stimulate debate, foster critical thinking and promotes expression of ideas and opinions. A growing number of professionals and experts in their chosen fields are also using blogs to publish their syllabi, course materials, and even scholarly writing. As informal and as subjective the general atmosphere in blogosphere may be, it can still be a valuable web resource.

Students should first identify the author to determine treatment on the information in the blog. When the author is identifiable and has expertise on the topic of the blog, then there is a greater chance for learning to occur. When blog postings have a substantive discussion of the topic and are regularly updated, it can be a potential web resource. Some good examples of personal blogs include Andrew J. Walsh, The Daily Beast and chez pim. Aside from the identifiable authors who are also experts in their chosen fields, these personal blogs are well updated and are written with substance. 

Web Resource 2: Government Sites 

Government sites probably have the safest and most reliable information. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, is considered an authority in data on inflation and prices, employment and productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, is respected in the field of occupational safety and health. Another government site, which is familiar to every consumer, is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC site publishes news and alerts on consumer protection and antitrust information. A word of caution: some of the reports and studies available in government sites are not updated. Always check the timeliness of the information. The government site’s “recent information” may be information from a study conducted 5 years ago. 

Web Resource 3: News /Journal Sites 

News and Journal sites include national, international and regional news organizations, online newspapers, magazines, periodicals and field-specific journals. Students should be concerned about the reputation of the publishing body and the reputation of its print counterpart, if any. A periodical with International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) may have the most authority. Examples include Reuters, PubMed and ABA Journal Law News Now.

Web Resource 4: Statistics/Studies Sites 

Academic institutions, government agencies and some organizations usually run statistics and studies sites. Students can find different statistical data from these sites including data sets summary data and market trends. Advocacy groups and some business entities also publish statistics and studies. When browsing over these sites, students should be mindful of the legitimacy of the sponsoring organizations, timeliness of data and objectivity. Some advocacy groups have the tendency to cherry pick information that will forward their interests. Examples include Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, United Nations and Cochrane Reviews. 

Web Resource 5: Commercial/Company Sites 

Commercial and company sites are a significant source of information on products and services, financial status and community outreach and employee programs. Usually, links to all these information are available in the home page of a website. Students may also go directly to the site map of a company or commercial site to locate the needed information. A word of caution: be critical of accuracy in the description of the company’s products or services. Majority of business entities have the tendency to exaggerate the benefits of their products or services. Third-party reviews of a service or product can balance the biases in the information on the company’s site. Examples include Pacific Gas and Company, American States Water Company and Time Warner Cable.

 

Additional Resources 

Web Wisdom: How to Evaluate and Create Information Quality on the Web – This book provides web users and web creators guidelines to recognize accuracy, reliability and trustworthiness in their respective activities.

A Student’s Guide to Research with the WWW – This resource provides strategies for evaluating online resources.

Using the Web for Research: What’s good on the Web? – Maintained by the University of Maryland University College, this web page provides linked web resources and their uses.