2004 Conference Proceedings

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WEBSKEPTIC: A SYSTEM FOR EVALUATING WEBSITES CONTAINING INFORMATION ABOUT LOW-INCIDENCE DISABILITIES

Presenter(s)
Jennifer Howell
Nathan Lowell
Sheryl Muir
National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities
University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, CO 80639
Phone: 800 395 2693
Fax: 970 351 1061
Email: jennifer.howell@unco.edu 
Email: nathan.lowell@unco.edu 
Email: sheryl.muir@unco.edu 

The Internet is generally seen as a repository of unlimited information. Is there something you want to know? Simply type it into a search engine and all your questions will be answered. Unfortunately, the answers you get might not be the answer to the question you asked. Or, you may find information that is biased, misleading, or incorrect. Furthermore, websites are created for a variety of purposes-to inform, persuade, sell, and change an attitude or belief. Sites are not monitored, edited, regulated, or approved by any consistent evaluation systems. Because of these factors, individuals seeking information on the Interned must be aware that publication has no necessary relationship with believability or accuracy (Greer, Holinga, Kindel, Netznik, 1999). Many library organizations, concerned with the ability of the user to make sense of the information available online, offer training to help individuals learn how to search for and use the information they find (DeRuiter, 2002). However, while this training may assist an individual or group in evaluating online information, it does very little good to the general public.

The National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities aims to build the nation's capacity to provide high quality educational services to infants, children and youth who are deaf or hard of hearing, are blind or visually impaired, or have severe disabilities, by serving as a central resource of information, training and technical support for families and educational professionals. Because the primary means the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities uses to provide these services is through the Internet, we are concerned about our ability to pass reliable, valuable information on to individuals who come to us seeking resources and information. To meet this need, we have developed a website evaluation and rating system, called WebSkeptic.

The WebSkeptic project of the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities is designed to help educators and families of students with low-incidence disabilities evaluate and make sense of the vast amount of information available on the Internet. To accomplish this, we have developed a rating and commentary system for reviewing websites. Three trained raters individually evaluate each website, and their comments and ratings are compiled and edited. In addition, a brief description of the website (generally obtained from the website itself) is presented to help users understand the purpose of the website and the type of information presented. Each website in the WebSkeptic has been reviewed and rated on a scale from 1-10 in the areas of content, credibility, accessibility and balance. The average score in each area as well as comments about the site appear in the WebSkeptic. WebSkeptic rating teams are composed of three raters, including teachers, parents, university faculty, researchers, students, and individuals with low-incidence disabilities. Each rater receives specific training in the rating criteria and practices with several websites before participating in formal rating processes.

The purpose of this session is to share information about the development, training, and evaluation of the WebSkeptic project. Methods for evaluating the content, credibility, accessibility, and balance of various websites will be discussed. Accessibility training methods, including the emphasis on universal design and accessibility for all users (not simply compliance with regulations) will be addressed. Feedback and suggestions regarding rating and training methods will be solicited from participants.

References

Greer, T. Holinga, D., Kindel, C, & Netznik, M. (1999). An educators' guide to credibility and web evaluation. Retrieved September 30, 2003, from http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/credibility/index.html

DeRuiter, J. (2002). Aspects of dealing with digital information: "Mature" novices on the Internet. Library Trends, 51(2), 199-210.


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