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Evaluating Sources in a Wikipedia World

Finally, some answers to the not-so-old student question—"Why can't I just Google it?"

A recent Pew Research Center study found that when performing online research, students rely heavily on sources with questionable academic quality, such as Wikipedia, and value immediacy over quality. This phenomenon is part of the new literacies, or digital media literacy, that has reverberated across K12 classes.

“It is true that today’s students grow up in an online world and are developing skills in gaming, social networking, downloading video, and texting from their out-of-school experiences,” says Donald J. Leu, director of the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut. “However, this does not mean they are skilled in online information use. Indeed, recent research shows that students are exceptionally unskilled with locating, critically evaluating, and reading online information, especially when it comes to higher-level thinking skills.”

And the problem has led to the creation of a number of rubrics, often from high schools and colleges, designed to help students select quality online sources. The most recent rubric is from Turnitin, an originality checking and online grading service, which developed a website evaluation rubric with new categories to help students determine the credibility of their online research sources.

 The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER) is built on five criteria:

• Authority: Is the site well regarded, cited, and written by experts in the field?

• Educational Value: Does the site content help advance educational goals? 

• Intent: Is the site a well-respected source of content intended to inform users?

• Originality: Is the site a source of original content and viewpoints?

• Quality: Is the site highly vetted with good coverage of the topical area?

Students evaluate each criteria using a 4.0 grading scale, with 4.0 being highly credible (for example, The New York Times online, with highly respected original content and well-referenced information), and 0 being discreditable (for example, a site such as, that actively sells and repurposes content). Secondary and higher education instructors helped design the SEER, after evaluating over 300 of the most popular sources used by students. “It’s so easy for students to conflate what appears online as being authoritative without really tracing the ownership, and the question of originality gets blurry,” says Jason Chu, Turnitin’s senior education manager. “We’re trying to really enable students to be more self-aware of how they’re conducting research online.” 

To learn more or download the rubric for free, visit