- Is this source credible? How do I know?
- What questions should I ask before I use this source? After I use it?
A student undertaking research should begin with who, what, where, how, and why. Students should continually investigate: become like detectives, keep asking questions; brainstorm new questions to ask, especially as answers are learned to the first few questions. Students should think about what questions a historian might ask when researching a given topic. Students should formulate questions as often as try to find answers.
Historical sources tell only part of the story from one perspective. As long as human beings generate documents, there will never be an unbiased document. When a historian encounters any document, questions must be raised. Sometimes a document will seem perfect, but caution students to not get so thrilled about the contents of a document that you overlook necessary questions. What is the genealogy of this document? How did it come to be located in this archive or collection? Is the path from its creation to its location believable? Could it have been planted? Is the document out of character with other documents?
Students should continually question the trustworthiness and credibility of sources, particularly for online research. Anyone can start a website to say almost anything. Students at this grade level tend to trust or use the first site to appear in a search engine. A good rule of thumb for academic research would be to use websites from educational institutions -- universities, museums, archives, etc.
Delaware Social Studies Standards
Integrated in the Instructional Strategies
History Standard Two 6-8a: Students will master the basic research skills necessary to conduct an independent investigation of historical phenomena.
History Standard Two 6-8b: Students will examine historical documents, artifacts, and other materials, and analyze them in terms of credibility, as well as the purpose, perspective, or point of view for which they were constructed.Instructional Strategies
Gathering Information: Concept Development
Write the words trustworthy and reliable on the board or display on an overhead projector.
Ask students to explain what these words mean, and give examples. What kinds of things display these characteristics? What is the relationship between the two words?
Explain to students that another description for things that are trustworthy and reliable is that they are credible. Credibility is how academic sources are described if they are trustworthy and reliable.
Check for Understanding
- What does it mean if something is credible? Give examples without using the words "trustworthy" or "reliable."
- Scoring Guide
Extending and Refining: Verifying Credibility
Ask the students: What is the boiling point of radium? (Give your answer in degrees Kelvin (K).) When students don’t know the answer offhand, ask where they could find the information. The Internet will be a popular response.
Online searching for the boiling point of radium in degrees Kelvin included these two websites in the search results. Direct students to these two websites:
Should the boiling point of radium be the same, no matter where you look? Yes, it would be considered factual information, verified by various independent sources.
The first website gave the boiling point of radium as 1973 Kelvin. The second website gave the boiling point of radium as 2010.15 Kelvin.
What would account for the difference? Answers will vary, but the essential point to draw from discussion is that just because it’s on the Internet, it’s not always true, trustworthy, reliable, or credible.
What might help you determine which website is more credible regarding the "real" boiling point of radium? Have students brainstorm while examining the two websites. Direct the discussion to the indicators below. Teachers should read the handout from An Educators' Guide to Credibility and Web Evaluation to lead the discussion.
Consider these indicators of whether a website is reliable:
What questions might a researcher ask about each of the indicators to help determine credibility?
Teachers should use the Web Page Evaluation sheet for questions that illustrate each of the indicators in order to help students define them.
Have students construct a graphic organizer like the one below to help organize and compare questions.
Check for Understanding
- How does a website tell you whether it’s credible? Support your answer with an example.
Application: Verifying Credibility
When historians conduct research, one of the things that they are most concerned about is the credibility of their primary and secondary sources. Today, much research can be conducted online and it's important to verify the credibility of websites that you might use to find historical sources for your NHD project.