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EasyBib’s New Extensions: two/too “easy buttons”?
Essentially, the tool allows users to do two things:
- Automatically cite web sites with one click using the EasyBib Toolbar.
- Receive advice on the credibility of the web site you’re citing.
The toolbar extension offers a drop-down menu from which users may choose to Cite on Easybib, View Bibliography, or check to see if a site is credible.
When you select Cite on EasyBib, a pop-up window shares citation information filled into a form. Sometimes the form populates automatically with data. Sometimes it does not. The default citation type is not always right and students should be alert to the opportunity to change the source type from, for instance, from website to journal article.
I am grateful for easy button number one. Automatic bibliography generation is a mighty handy tool, especially for those of us who can recognize format types and can scan finished citations for accuracy. It’s really nice to be able to send them our bibliographies on the fly.
Number 2 is a different story.
While I applaud EasyBib’s attempt to focus students’ attention on credibility, evaluating documents is not an activity I want to outsource.
IMHO, it’s simply not the right message. It’s just not so easy.
Evaluation is contextual. It’s a thinking process. It’s a learning process.
I don’t want my students to believe that they can opt out of the process and accept the decision of this particular easy button, especially when they have to guess at the reasoning behind the judgment.
My quick searches reveal that my databases seem off the EB radar. School Library Journal and its blogs are not yet evaluated. Blogs, even those by experts, are not yet evaluated.
Everything from the New York Times, including every letter in the Letters section is labeled credible.
Everything on CNN, merely because of its presence on the domain, appears to be labeled credible–comments, entertainment videos, ads, etc.
Pages from Wikipedia and YouTube are labeled maybe credible.
A site I refer to all the time for useful advice, eHow.com, is labeled not credible.
While it immediately found this article in The Onion suspect, it doesn’t really give me any clue as to why.
Stormfront’s Martin Luther King hate site is labeled not yet evaluated.
Sites like NARA, PBS, The Library of Congress, and BBC come up as credible every time I searched. But students need to evaluate the credibility of the specific items they choose to use on those portals individually. And then, of course, even unreliable sources offer us a valuable lens on time and period, that is, when we critically evaluate them.
EasyBib does not explain its specific judgments.
When a site is labeled not yet evaluated, users are led to Evaluate it! using EasyBib’s 11-page Web Evaluation document which guides them through thinking about and measuring credibility through a series tests based on authorship, bias, citations and links, currency (when it was published), publisher, etc. These metrics combined with input from millions of student users seems to form the basis for the toolbar extension’s judgments.
Do we want this particular task to be easy?
In an information landscape newly rich with user-generated content, evaluation is a fuzzier process than it once was. It can also be an exciting opportunity for learning.
Depending upon a variety of contextual factors, as well as authorship, blogs and tweets may have new credibility as primary sources. But a toolbar extension cannot discern these things.
It’s not just about the traditionally measured authority of the source, it’s about the context beyond. It’s about the specific information need and the reason behind the creation of the content. In fact, it is possible that depending upon context. all sites may be credible.
I prefer David Warlick’s goals-based evaluation approach.
As students’ information products should be based on teacher or student established goals, evaluating the material that they consider using in their products should also be goals-oriented. Rather than judging the material based solely on itself via an examination instrument that has nothing to do with the students work, it should be judged from the perspective of what the student wants to accomplish.
From this standpoint, we would not ask, “Is the author qualified?”, but, “What aspects of the author’s background help me accomplish my goal?” Under certain circumstances, a web page published by a neo-nazi organization might actually be appropriate for an assignment, while other resources, produced by people with credential would not. It depends on what the student wants to accomplish.
This approach actually serves three interesting purposes.
- The student is focused on drawing supporting or appropriate information into the project rather than just filtering “bad” information out.
- The student gathers information about the information.
- As students approaches information with their goals to accomplish, they are less likely to be influenced by the goals of those who generated and published the information, which has interesting implications for media literacy.
I want my students to think through their credibility decisions one by one. I want them to understand what they are holding and decide on its relative value to their inquiry. I want them to spend some time determining the authority and relevance of the documents they discover. I don’t want them to rely the word of a yes/no crowdsourced algorithm.
Inherently, EasyBib, Number 2, is not an easy process.
About Joyce Valenza
Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza
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