It's interesting to note how far electronic resources have come over the past twenty years. There was a time when any information derived from the Internet was regarded with suspicion. Then, as government agencies, journalists, researchers, and various other authoritative parties started to take their place in the electronic frontier, educators began to develop protocols for evaluating electronic resources. We had to do this to help our students differentiate between legitimate, authoritative information and the myriad of uninformed opinion that often attempts to disguise itself as something more.
In an era where students are leveraging the Internet to support their research, it is critical that they be armed with the tools they need to assess the websites and online articles that might seek to find their way into bibliographies and works cited.
A while back, I came up with a simple approach to evaluating electronic sources of information. I called it the Five "A" Approach. There are definitely other approaches to evaluating online resources, but I quite like the Five "A" Approach for its speed and simplicity. The five "A"s that I ask my students to examine in an electronic resource (such as a web page or online article) can be described as follows:
i) Authorship: Is the author identified?
ii) Authority: Is the agency or organization associated with the resource identified?
iii) Age: Is the publication date of the resource identified?
iv) Aim: Is the author or organization associated with the resource aligned with any particular goal or objective that might bias the resource?
v) Authenticity: Does the resource identify the sources of its own information?
If the resource fails any of these five criteria, then its authority and authenticity may be suspect. If it fails two or more criteria, then it should probably be rejected as a potential resource.
Consider using the Five "A" Approach to evaluating electronic resources the next time your students set out to support their work with online resources.
You can download a PDF version of the Five "A" Approach rubric below.
The 5A Test vs. the CRAAP Test
The CRAAP test is a similar approach to evaluating electronic resources that was developed by the Meriam Library at California State University. This test was published in 2010, a couple of years after I developed and published the 5A Approach on newlearner.com. The CRAAP test also involves five questions for researchers to ask when evaluating the reliability of a given resource, suggesting that researchers examine a resource for its currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose.
While the categories of each test are quite parallel, the 5A test was developed specifically for electronic resources, and tends to be presented as a series of objective questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." The CRAAP test, on the other hand, is made for general application to any resource, and is more subjective in its design. You will note that each of the five criteria in the 5A test begins with the words, "The student can identify." Alternatively, the CRAAP test tends to ask a number of "who, what, when, does, do" questions for each of the five criteria.
Invariably, the fundamental difference between the two tests can be attributed to the audience for which the tests were originally created. I created the 5A test for secondary school students, and so each criteria poses a single, objective question that can more or less serve as an acid test. The Meriam Library, on the other hand, developed the CRAAP test for university students, and so its five criteria have a more general application while also requiring a higher degree of subjective evaluation on the part of the student.
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