Often, the Information Superhighway seems more like an Information Traffic Jam. There is so much information out there much of it junk that it is sometimes difficult to locate what you really want. Once you do find what appears to be a good resource, how do you evaluate it? How can you be sure the information is accurate? How do you know if an online course, a curriculum guide, or an activity will work with your child?
The Internet is a little like a huge library except that many of the books and materials have no editor. Anyone can post almost anything on the Internet. Furthermore, there is no equivalent of a librarys card catalog. Even the best and most comprehensive search engines only search a small fraction of the material that is actually available on the Internet, and, of course, new materials are posted every day. Therefore, once you have located a potential educational resource, it is extremely important to be able to adequately evaluate both the accuracy and the usefulness of any online materials, before using them with your children.
It is essential for any home-schooling family to analyze Internet curriculum materials in two ways. First, any potential online curriculum resource should be evaluated to ascertain that it is both reputable and accurate. You probably have noticed that Web site addresses often end in .com, .edu, .gov, or .org. This signifies what type of Web site it is.
.com Web sites are sponsored by commercial enterprises. Often the materials available on the Web sites are very good; however, you need to keep clearly in mind that the purpose of the site is to promote or sell a product.
.edu Web sites are sponsored by educational institutions, public and private, pre-K through college. These sites usually provide accurate information, but you need to remember that all educational institutions have their own unique individual philosophies, which are reflected in the materials they provide. You will need to weigh whether or not the philosophies represented match your own, or at least are not in clear opposition to your own beliefs.
.gov Web sites are sponsored by the U. S. government. These sites provide official government information and tax-supported resources, ranging from the Library of Congress to the Smithsonian, from NASA to IRS forms.
.org Web sites are sponsored by organizations of many types. If the organization is a reputable one, usually information on the Web site is checked for reasonable accuracy. However, because organizations of all types have a distinct purpose and mission, you can expect the materials presented on an organizations Web site to directly reflect that purpose, and probably that bias.
One other type of Web site often useful to home schoolers are Web sites created and sponsored by individuals. Many home-schooling families have been enormously generous with their time and knowledge of Internet resources, and have posted links to very valuable educational information. Other families have even posted unit studies that they have created themselves, or useful forms that they have designed. However, many other Web sites designed by individuals contain inaccurate, misleading, or wrong information, so evaluate all materials carefully.
The second consideration in determining whether or not to use a particular Internet curriculum resource is a personal one, unique to your family. Is the curriculum resource appropriate for your childs age, his or her learning style, your teaching style, and your familys religious beliefs? These are important questions to ask about any curriculum materials you are considering, whether or not they come from the Internet. As you do this, remember the following:
Do not be a slave to any curriculum materials, whether you got them from the Internet or from a traditional publisher. Too often, even among home schoolers, we let a set curriculum designed by someone else dictate what and when our children learn. In reality, curriculum materials are simply a tool. Take the time to pray, and then follow the Lords guidance as to what your child needs to learn, and when. Use any curriculum or instructional materials to assist in following that directive, and not the other way around.
Materials that work well for one child may not work with another child, even in the same family. This is because children have varied developmental paths, learning styles, personalities, interests, and missions in life. Dont hesitate to retire instructional materials that are not working for a particular child, and select something more appropriate instead.
The following Web sites and free online tutorials will assist home-schooling parents in learning how to evaluate Internet Web sites for accuracy and usefulness in their home school.
Evaluating Web Pages. The evaluation section of this online tutorial is sponsored by the library at the University of California, Berkeley. This section of the tutorial provides practice in evaluating Web sites for accuracy, hints about determining the author of a Web site, ways to cite web information, and a series of very important questions to ask (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/EvalQuestions.html) when evaluating a Web site.
The Five Ws (and one H) of Cyberspace is part of the Canadian Media Awareness Centers site. This one-page handout provides a list of appropriate questions to ask about any Web site, and also describes how to decode a URL (Web site address).
Evaluation of Web Sites. This component of a larger University of Chicago professional development Web site for teachers contains a tutorial with many details about how to evaluate Internet information for elementary and secondary education, including a printable evaluation checklist (http://cuip.uchicago.edu/wit/2000/curriculum/homeroommodules/assessEdSites/evalchecklist.htm).
Home-schooling families choose homeschooling in large part because they feel very strongly about their responsibility before God to direct their childrens education. Carefully evaluating instructional materials both traditional and online is an essential component of that responsibility.
Kathi Kearney has been working with home-schooling parents for 23 years. She works as an educational consultant for parents of gifted children. She has taught at the university level and is a free-lance writer. You will often find Kathi in Crosswalk.com chat rooms, helping home-school moms.