We live in a world where there is more information available than there has ever been before, and much of it is accessible with the mere touch of the button (or, perhaps more accurately, with the tap of a few keyboard keys). With so much information at our fingertips, a major question arises: how do we know that what we’re reading is credible, reliable and accurate?
In this Information Age, it can be difficult to navigate the abundance- or overabundance- of data that is so easily accessible online, and knowing how to test the veracity of this information is a skill that we can help our students and children to develop. One of the most important ways that you, as parents, can help to improve your child’s critical thinking skills in relation to online information is to teach them how to question the information itself.
Here are some simple questions to ask your child in order to help them think more critically about their sources of information:
- Where did they find the information?
Prompt your child to find out more about the website where they found the information- some types of sources are more reliable than others. A specialist academic journal is a far more reliable source of information than a personal blog or internet message board, for example.
- Who wrote, published or said it?
- Is the writer, publisher or speaker a reliable source of information?
- Do they have qualifications or credentials that give them authority in relation to the topic?
- Are there any contextual factors that might influence the way they have presented the information? (For example, if an article that details the health benefits of eating more sugar has been published by a company that manufactures soft drinks and lollies, we could expect to find some bias in their presentation of information.)
If your child found the source via a Google search, encourage them to Google the author or publisher, too.
- Is there a reference list?
The information will be less reliable if there is no evidence that the author conducted meaningful research of their own. If your child’s source of information is Wikipedia, ask them to take their research a step further and read the sources of information linked in the reference list, rather than the Wikipedia article alone.
- When was the information published?
Is it up to date and current, or does your child need to seek a more recent publication to ensure they have the most accurate information available?
If, after asking these questions, your child is comfortable that their source is reliable, consider asking the following questions about the information they have collected:
- Is the information accurate?
Remind your child to ‘cross-check’ their information against other sources. The first source of information that they find will not necessarily be the best source of information, so checking against other sources is an important step.
- What information has been included? What has been left out?
This relates back to the credibility of the author- has the author only presented one side of the argument? This might suggest a bias in the presentation of information. Encourage your child to find the gaps in their research and pinpoint aspects of the topic that require further research in order for them to see the whole picture.
- Is there another perspective to consider?
Are there other ideas or ways of looking at the problem that haven’t been explored in the information they have found? By asking this question, not only are you inviting your child to consider alternative perspectives (an important part of all critical thinking), but you may also prompt them to think of their own solutions or ideas in relation to the topic or problem.
By working with our teenagers as they research and read information online, we are modelling critical thinking skills that will transfer to other areas of their lives- the ability to consider biases and assumptions, thoughtfully question information, and draw conclusions through evidence and reasoning will serve them well beyond the realms of academic research.
By Anna Brown (Head of English and Library)
Lumen Learning (n.d.). Chapter 7: Critical thinking and evaluating information. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/austincc-learningframeworks/chapter/chapter-7-critical-thinking-and-evaluating-information/
Monash University (2020). Evaluating information. Retrieved from https://www.monash.edu/rlo/research-writing-assignments/finding-and-evaluating-information/evaluating-information
Sunny Empire State College (2020, January 15). Research skills tutorial: Credible sources. Retrieved from https://subjectguides.esc.edu/researchskillstutorial/credible