How reliable is the Internet as a learning resource?

Are you using the Internet for your homework, exam or research paper?

At this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone really avoiding the Internet as a useful resource for their learning, whether you’re addicted to Wikipedia, or to Google searches.

What comes to one’s mind is the question is the Internet reliable, though, for your revision? Can you depend on the sources and the information that you find? Are there any things that you should look out for when you’re doing your research, and how can you avoid bad habits?

The first thing to remember is that Wikipedia may be popular, and there’s a lot of excellent content on the site, but that you may come across some ‘facts’ that are actually theories or interpretations. In this way, it’s important to check as many different searches as you can – never assume that anything’s going to be completely accurate, and check to see whether another site is giving slightly conflicting information – what are there sources, and is one more detailed than the other?

Avoid relying on just the one source

It’s also important to know your projects. If you’re looking for a particular piece of information, or an essay to help your understanding, you need to be as detailed as possible when running a search. Look for websites that are part of paper journals and newspapers or television stations – the BBC and The New York Times are good examples here. Effectively, you want to avoid relying on just the one source, and avoiding relying on any sites that haven’t been updated in a long time, or are just from a personal blog. You should also focus on running searches on Google Books if you want access to already published material.

Generally speaking, the more detailed you are in your search, the better the results you’ll find. Try to make a list of different sites that you’ve found interesting before, and look at pages where they give a lot of links to different sites – any page that ends in .org or .gov is also useful, as they’re usually linked to charities or government pages, and are typically more reliable if you want statistics, or if you want to check a page that’s been edited by a lot of different people – Wikipedia fits into this category.

Don’t just rely on Wikipedia

When looking up a question, or trying to find sources for a project, it’s useful to know the difference between primary and secondary sources – you might use a Youtube clip from a play or film, or a set of photographs as part of an art project; alternatively, you may find a detailed essay on Shakespeare that’s well written and has a lot of references. Most Internet material can be set apart by how well it’s written and put together – if you find a page that looks like it was designed 15 years ago and abandoned, it’s probably going to have some gaps – even if it’s factual, the information may have been improved.

Most importantly, though, don’t get into bad habits when using the Internet. Don’t just rely on Wikipedia or one or two sites, even if they are useful. Try different Google searches, and make a list of different pages that are good for particular projects. Similarly, never just copy and paste and not put a reference to the source – this is usually picked up by a teacher, and can land you in a lot of trouble. Keep records, and be critical about what sites you’re using. By doing so, you can make the most of the Internet as an excellent learning resource.

About the Author:

Albert Roberts is a secondary school teacher.  He found his job looking through and recommends you do too!  Albert loves raising awareness of different teaching strategies and the difficulties faced when inspiring the next generation.

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