Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Assessing the reliability of online sources in science

Assessing the reliability of online sources in science

Samantha Hopkins
University of Oregon
Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 16, 2009


This is an exercise in assessing the reliability of online sources. It is intended to help non-science majors think more critically about the scientific information they receive from popular sources.

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Introductory class in evolution for non-science majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

the ability to write a coherent explanation

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone exercise that substituted for a day of class when class was canceled.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

nature of the evolution-creation controversy

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

critical reading of popular science
hypothesis testing in paleontological studies

Other skills goals for this activity

Using the www to find both popular and scientific sources, as well as to find information on people and sources.
Use of the library website to locate library resources.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students use this exercise to practice skills in critical analysis of popular science. In the process, they learn how to find the information they need to locate the original scientific source of a scientific claim, and to read the original sources to evaluate the consistency between the original source and the popular article. They learn how to evaluate the quality of those original scientific sources, as well. Finally, they go through the process of evaluating competing arguments for scientific validity in a reading about the evolution-creation controversy.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are graded on the basis of their responses to the questions in the exercise.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

URLs are listed in the assignment handout.

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