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Evaluating the Web
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SCAILAB - Student Computer Aided Instruction Lab
SCAILAB Web Site Evaluation Worksheet

Choose a topic that you are interested in finding information about and answer the following questions:

1. What topic are you looking for?

This might be very general or very specific, but it should reflect the type of information you are looking for. All of your key words should revolve around this topic.

Examples:

Japanese Tea Ceremony
Anti-Smoking Legislation
The History of Beanie Babies

2. What keywords do you use to describe you topic?

The trick here is to think of ways other people have described your topic. Keywords should be terms that other people have used in creating Web pages on your topic, or creators of search engines have used in categorizing Web pages. As you begin surfing, it may be helpful to tailor your key words to match terms you see in the pages you have found.

Examples:

japanese tea ceremony, tea japan, chaji, chado, Japan tea tradition, tea culture tradition, tea cultural tradition, and so on.

Some Search Engines:

www.metacrawler.com | www.iwon.com | www.dogpile.com
www.altavista.com | www.infoseek.com | www.goto.com
www.yahoo.com | www.excite.com | www.webcrawler.com
www.hotbot.com | www.LookSmart.com | www.search.com
www.lycos.com | www.google.com | www.search.aol.com

3. Which search engines did you use to find sources on your topic?

There are dozens of search engines out there, and you should always try more than one search engine when doing research, and different combinations of key words on each search engine.

Example:

www.iwon.com
www.yahoo.com
www.webcrawler.com

4. How many hits (sites) did you get when you did your search?

Consider not only the number of sites (because many might be on topics unrelated to your area of interest), but the quality and specific focus. Note also, in the examples below, how the choice of related words "culture" vs. "cultural" affects the number of sites returned. Pay attention to which search engines give you more sites, the more key words you provide, and which give you less. Some search engines will return sites based on the occurrence of ANY of your words, and some will return sites based on the occurrence of ALL of your words. For this reason, you will probably want to avoid using words like "of" and "the" among your keywords--if you do use them, the search engine might return any Web site with "of" or "the" in the description! More hits does not necessarily mean a more successful search. Some seach engines will give you ways to search for particular phrases, though, which can be useful if you're looking for information on something like "The War of the Roses," so your search won't turn up general sites on "war" and "roses."

Examples:

www.iwon.com "Japanese tea ceremony" returned 16812 sites
www.iwon.com "chaji" returned 85 sites
www.iwon.com "chado" returned 2413 sites
www.iwon.com "tea culture tradition" returned 24517 sites
www.iwon.com "tea cultural tradition" returned 18885 sites
www.yahoo.com "tea culture tradition" returned about 14100 sites
www.yahoo.com "tea ceremony" returned about 31000 sites
www.yahoo.com "chaji" returned 132 sites
www.yahoo.com "chado" returned 979 sites
www.webcrawler.com "Japan tea ceremony" returned 71799 sites
www.webcrawler.com "chaji" returned 0 sites
www.webcrawler.com "chado" returned 24 sites

Complete the evaluation checklist on the next page for one of the sites that you found.

Address of Web site (cut & paste!):

Example: http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/syll/Hum310japan/Moriritual.html


I. AUTHOR

1. Who is the author of this site?

This can be a tricky matter, since many Web pages are created under pseudonyms or have no name or corporate identity listed at all.

Examples:
Dr. Barbara Lynne Rowland Mori is the author of the essay "Cosmic Tea Bowl: The Ritual Serving of Food and Drink in Japan," and this information is clearly printed on the page.

Yet other sites, such as http://www.whymilk.com/, do not overtly say who is responsible for the information contained therein. The privacy policy lists the California Fluid Milk Processor Advisory Board and The National Milk Processor Promotion Board as being legal owners of the information, but it takes research on other sites on the Internet to learn the Dairy Council is behind the "Got Milk?" campaign. If you find a site like this, you may wish to think about the reasons why a person or organization may wish to obscure their real identity.

2. What are the authorís credentials? What makes them qualified to provide information on this topic?

Sometimes people will provide short autobiographies or will include a resume or list of recent print publications. If no link is apparent on the page you are looking at, you can begin to cut back the Web address at each slash mark, to get back to the original directory or index page.

Example:

Let's look at http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/syll/Hum310japan/Moriritual.html.
--> http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/syll/Hum310japan/ is a directory index (no help).
--> http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/syll/ is another directory index (no help).
--> http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/ is Dr. Mori's main page, with autobiographical notes and links. Bingo!

Dr. Mori writes, "Currently is teaching at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo courses in race relations, gender and Asian cultures; engaged in research on women in the Central Coast Indian Community, women's higher education in China, Korea and Japan." In addition, she lists several publications and various courses she has taught.

If you have doubts about a Web page's author or a corporation's credentials or you wish to check up on them, try doing a Web search on the name. You can also check into the books an author might've written by doing a search at http://www.amazon.com, which has a listing of practically all books in print.

3. What appears to be the authorís motivation for creating this site?

All creators of Web pages have some kind of motivation, and this creates a certain degree of bias in what they write.

Please note: Just because something is biased doesn't mean it is bad or inaccurate!

Necessarily, writers pick and choose what information they provide based on what they know and like, and they organize the information to support their purpose for creating the page. You should be aware, though, of what the author is trying to do with the material they are writing, and take it into account when you want to use the page as a source in your own research.

Examples:

At http://www.transitchicago.com/, Chicago Transit Authority provides bus and train schedules for the city of Chicago. This is just pure information, right? Well, the CTA is also a business--by posting their schedules, they hope to increase ridership.

Compare the Dairy Industry's http://www.whymilk.com/ with the Dairy Education Board's http://www.notmilk.com. Both give "facts about milk," yet the former encourages everyone to drink more milk, while the latter claims that milk is unhealthy. Certainly, the Dairy Industry supports America's dairy farmers and wishes to support the selling and consumption of milk. Meanwhile, the "Dairy Education Board" is actually a man named Robert Cohen, a researcher against the use of growth hormones given to cows to increase their milk production. He has personal beliefs against milk for health and environmental reasons, and his Web pages clearly reflect those beliefs.

4. Based on your answers to the above questions, do you feel that this person is qualified to provide information on this subject? Please explain your answer.

This involves judgment and comparison on your part, given what information the author or organization provides, as well as what is missing. You should never automatically trust a source just because it is published on the Internet--it takes very little time to post or alter any information on-line. Using the milk example from the above question, you might need to look at all the information available on the pages and decide for yourself which side of the argument to believe, based on who you feel is most trustworthy. You can also look at other sites to see which ones present information that either supports or refutes what information you have found.


II. SOURCE

1. Is this site on a commercial, educational, governmental, organizational, or foreign server?

You can determine this by looking at the last part of the main URL, that is, the domain. Web pages are organized (more or less) according to what sort of group or individual is responsible for the information. In the United States, common domains are .edu (education), .gov (government agency), .net (network-related), .com (commercial), and .org (nonprofit and research organizations), though the last three can be owned by virtually any individual. Outside the United States, domains indicate country: ca (Canada), uk (United Kingdom), au (Australia), jp (Japan), fr (France), and so on. Paying attention to this can be a clue to the origin of the information.

2. Is the site an institution or personal homepage?

A page with a tilde (~) after its main URL is probably written by someone other than the owner of the Web site. Many servers permit individuals to have private accounts on their space. When an organization, corporation, or institution does this, they are rarely responsible for the quality or accuracy of the information contained therein.

Examples:

http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/ --> A personal page on an educational server. Dr. Mora is using it to post information about the classes she teaches, and she is the one responsible for the information, not the College of Liberal Arts at California Polytechnic State University.

http://cla.calpoly.edu/cla/ --> The College of Liberal Arts Home Page, at California Polytechnic State University. Whether the material here was written by an individual or a group of people, the College of Liberal Arts (and possibly Cal Poly as a whole) is responsible for its content.

http://geocities.yahoo.com/home/ --> The Geocities home page. All material and graphics are property of Yahoo! Inc.

http://www.geocities.com/boybandheaven/home.html --> A personal home page. The individual who wrote the page "Boy Band Heaven" is responsible for its content.

3. When was the document created and/or last updated?

For the most part, one is dependent on the information the creator of the page provides. Some pages will list when they were last updated (though this may or may not be accurate). E-zines and electronic journals will often list a date, a time frame, or an issue number, such as "Spring/Summer 1999" or "Issue 8.10". Also keep in mind that the "expiration date" of information depends a lot on what it is. For example, sports statistics may become useless within days, but a list of major texts written in ancient Sumarian might be reliable for years. Only educating yourself about the topic will teach you what information is current and therefore reliable.

4. Based on your answers to the above questions, how trustworthy do you believe this source is?

Again, you will have to use your own judgment, based on what you have learned and how any single page fits in with what is commonly known about the subject in question.


III. CONCLUSION

Based on your answers in the above three sections and your evaluation of this Web site, please answer the following questions:

1. Does this site provide accurate, reliable, and updated information on your topic? Please explain your answer.

2. Would you recommend this site to one of your classmates? Please explain what you believe are the pros and cons of the site. If your evaluation is overwhelmingly negative, what led you originally to choose to evaluate this Web site, rather than another, better one?