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Web Evaluation

This page was last edited on: 25.02.06

The growth and nature of the Internet is such that it is now possible for anyone to put together a good-looking web site. As we all know too well this does not guarantee the accuracy or quality of the finished product. Just as there are very few school lessons devoted to the core educational topic of 'how to learn' there are relatively few websites telling you how to spot a 'good', 'accurate' site when you land at its homepage. If "the truth is out there" then there's also a great deal of weirdness out there as well! This is not just a question of those sites of questionable taste or those openly inciting hatred based on race or other characteristic (although both types are increasingly causing pressure to be put on internet service providers to remove them) but those which put a perspective which appears at first sight to be fair but it often holds a hidden agenda.

The sites mentioned below are a few of the better ones that can be found through a simple web search (ideally using each search engine's directory of best sites - try Google's). However, there is a flaw here. Many of the sites say, in effect, that you can trust an official site such as .gov or .org but that it's less likely to be accurate if it's a private homepage. This depends - after all, this is a private homepage and it aims to be as accurate as possible! Do visit these and other similar sites but also bear in mind the following that I use when trying to pick a good site for inclusion here:

    • Does the site say clearly who's running it? Can you find out their names, organisations they're linked to, qualifications that could be checked? In all, does it look like an open, fair site? If so,...
    • Does the information it provide look current? Good sites are updated regularly (although excellent information can be years old and still current). What you're looking for is a site where the managers are trying to keep up with current events (useful in environmental science/ecology);
    • Does the information given fit in with that found in other sources? There are two aspects to consider here. Firstly, if it does fit in then it might well be another source to look at (but if it duplicates other work then there's not too much point in bookmarking it!). Secondly, if it doesn't fit in then it might be biased (i.e. only giving a very one-sided view) or its trying to put forward a new theory. There is an idea that all information presented should be 'balanced' in some way. All this leads to is some very bland sites. What's interesting is the site that's obviously putting something new but which makes us think about what it's saying. Don't discard something just because its new, just look at it very carefully. Remember, if Einstein were alive today it is most unlikely he would be allowed a university lecturing job because his ideas were developed privately and were initially considered too unusual!;
    • Can you contact the webmaster or other staff easily? Often, sites with a highly political agenda are less easy to contact that the more open organisations;
    • Is the site linked to other reputable sites and is the link reciprocated? There are many 'private' sites in universities giving each lecturer some space to promote his/her courses and ideas. Some, like this one, are linked to publishers and the BES etc. Just as we see with peer-reviewed papers, a series of credible links helps establish the authority of the work;
    • Finally, check with others. Good sites are often used by groups researching the same topic. If you're in this situation, get co-workers to share a list of key sites they visit. Start surfing the topic and you'll soon find those that turn up all the time in searches and in links to/from other sites.

Even after you've gone through all these checks and read the work on the sites mentioned below it's still possible to get a poor web-site. At the end of the day it just takes constant exposure to the web to be able to get a sixth-sense reaction on whether a site is going to be 'good' or not. When I've been looking through sites I've seen things that don't quite feel right and I've left them out. I may be missing something vital but at the end of the day that's a judgement call I have to make. Hopefully, the more I surf, the better I get.

If you want to comment on this , or for any broken links or new sites, e-mail me.



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