Evaluating The Credibility of Digital Sources

Students today are hyper-connected to information, but do they know how to research? Nope.

research in computer lab

Anecdotally, I know from my own work with students that the majority do not know how to find high-quality information, evaluate the credibility of digital sources, properly cite resources, or effectively analyze and apply that information.

While presenting a “search smarter” lesson in the computer lab, one of my students raised his hand and proudly proclaimed that he always uses the information in the yellow box because it is “the best.” I informed him that the yellow box was advertisement space.

The ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project found that “only seven out of 30 students whom anthropologists observed at Illinois Wesleyan conducted what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search.” Clearly, most students are not “college and career ready” when it comes to research. This may, in part, explain the emphasis on research in the Common Core.

The Common Core states that college and career ready students are able to:

  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating an understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

In an effort to support my students in developing their ability to analyze the credibility of resources, I designed a Google form called “Got Credibility.” I share this form with teachers whenever I lead professional development on the Common Core. I created the silent screencast below that walks people who are new to Google through the process of making a copy of this form for their own use with students.

This form can be edited once you make a copy of the spreadsheet. I hope other educators will find this a useful tool to support students in developing the ability to evaluate digital resources.

If you have a strategy you use to teach research, please share it!

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31 Responses to Evaluating The Credibility of Digital Sources

  1. Dena says:

    I love your google form for the credibility check, and I’d like to make a copy of it to share at my site, but when I open it I only get the form, not the spreadsheet view so I can’t make a copy. Can you help me out?

    • Hi Dena,

      This is what I get for posting this in a rush before a presentation! Thank you for alerting me to the mistake. I have corrected it so you have access to the spreadsheet.

      Take care.


  2. Susie Highley says:

    You’re to be commended for addressing this in a concrete, helpful way. I also wonder if part of the digital literacy gap is due to the large number of certified school librarians and programs that have been cut. When classroom teachers and media specialists collaborate on research projects, students get additional support. Thanks for the post.

    • Kristin Harrington says:

      Yes, totally agree. I have been searching for research examples and lesson ideas. This is the best resource I have found!

  3. Sarah Searles says:

    I teach students to use a rubric to evaluate websites before they use them, with detailed criteria to define Currency, Reliability, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose–the CRAAP test, which they can remember pretty well. 🙂

    The big thing is not teaching students to do it; the big hurdle is getting teachers all on board so everyone is actually making them DO it. If I go in as a librarian and teach them the skill in a history class, and then a science teacher tells them not to fool with it, they will never adopt it as a habit. It has to become a general expectation in the school culture. Same thing with intellectual property, database use, value-added note taking, et cetera.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for sharing your approach. I agree that valuing and teaching research needs to be part of a school’s culture. Research is a crucial foundational skill that benefits all classes.

      Thank you for the comment!


  4. I couldn’t agree with you more, Catlin. Here’s my recent blog post on the need for students to understand which sources to trust when they’re doing History research. http://trustineducation.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/trust-and-history-students-and-the-internet/

  5. Thanks for the credibility sheet. I teach at a small community college in WV.
    We just reviewed Boolean search terms. I only introduce what I consider to be the most useful to help the students filter their searches. I use the example of my name:
    Margaret Clifford. I put it in the search box and we look at the number of hits (47 million). I explain that this includes all pages with the name Margaret and Clifford, even if it’s Margaret Smith and Clifford Jones. Then we enter “Margaret Clifford” in the search box (note the quotes), and the number of hits are drastically lowered. Then we enter “Margaret Clifford” + Thomas. The number of hits is lowered again.
    I also read on David Pogue’s site that many users don’t know how to use “Control F”.
    I show students how “Control F” can find their term on a webpage or a word document. I also show them “Control +”, “Control -, “Control P” and “Control A”. These simple tools are very helpful to many of my students.
    Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Have a look at the inquiryprocess.ca Here in Quebec, we have teachers and librarians working on a 4-step research process that includes evaluating the credibility of information sources.

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  8. Caitlin,
    I’m doing a workshop this week on tech resources for English teachers and one of the topics is source credibility. I’m using the worksheet from ReadWriteThink along with several hoax websites – http://tinyurl.com/2aghtpd – to introduce the concept but will definitely share your document for students to use as they get used to identifying credible resources.

    Thank you so much for creating the form and sharing it!


    • Hello Danielle,

      You are so welcome! I enjoy sharing what I am doing that is working. I’m glad it will be useful to you in your training.

      Thank you for passing along the hoax websites link! I’m going to check it out now.

      Take care.


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  14. HI Caitlin,
    I would love to see the form that goes with this, thanks!

    • Hi Sylvia,

      You need to make a copy of the spreadsheet to get to the form. If you watch the screencast embedded into the blog, it walks you through making a copy.


  15. Amber says:

    I love your excel sheet! It will be a great help in teaching my senior seminar students this semester! Thank you!! 🙂

  16. Amanda says:

    Hi Catlin,

    I have tried the method shown in the screencast several times and I am able to make copies but the “form” tab along the top of the spreadsheet does not become visible for me, making it so that I cannot edit a form. I tried creating a form by clicking “tools” then “create a form” but it does not generate a form that matches the spreadsheet. Any thoughts on what is happening?

    Thank you!


    • Hi Amanda,

      I just went through the whole process and “Form” appears at the top of my screen once I’ve made a copy. I’m not sure why you are not seeing the same thing. Are you using an updated browser? Google works best with Chrome. If you aren’t already trying it with Chrome, I’d try it with that browser to see if it works.


  17. Amanda says:

    Thanks Catlin,
    I’m not sure what’s happening either. Maybe it is a glitch with the new update to Google Forms? I will check that my Chrome is up to date too. I tried again this morning and that “form” button just isn’t there for me. Worst case, I will start a new form from scratch based on the spreadsheet. No big deal. Thank you!

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