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Investigating Criteria that Seventh Graders Use to Evaluate the Quality of Online Information


Coiro, Julie, et al. “Investigating Criteria that Seventh Graders Use to Evaluate the Quality of Online Information.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, vol. 59 no. 3, 2015, pp.287-297.

(The article is freely available through this link)


Most research related to how students evaluate online content focuses on high school and college students. Authors of this article focus on adolescent learners in the 7th grade in the interest of intervening on the issues they found related to online content evaluation in an attempt to help resolve them by the time students reach high school and college.

Today’s technologies can make it harder for students to find credible online sources, requiring that we explicitly teach students how to evaluate online content. This study focuses on 773 seventh grade participants from 42 districts in 2 states. Researchers collected data from students’ open-constructed responses on items from an online research and comprehension session. They found that while most students can name the author of a website, an overwhelming majority of students do not provide sufficient criteria or reasoning for evaluating author expertise. While many students were able to identify the author’s point of view from online content, most found difficulty using evidence from the content to elaborate, made vague connections, or confused author’s point of view with the narrative point of view (1st person, 3rd person) or confusing point of view with author’s purpose.

Website reliability was also a struggle for most students. They made generalized or inaccurate assumptions about web content with vague elaborations about author's’ level of expertise or overall reliability. If students considered any criteria, it was usually singular even though reliability can be assessed myriad ways.

Classroom Application

Authors of this article provide specific instructional practices for educators to implement to explicitly teach students about evaluation of online content including: modeling how and where to find information related to authors and their affiliations, asking students to elaborate on authors’ areas of expertise, explicitly modeling how we understand authorial point of view, showing students what to do when they find conflicting information about a topic, and reinforcing the need to read a range of different websites in different formats to learn how multiple criteria should be used to evaluate online content.