I will be completely honest from the start and say that one of my greatest weaknesses in regards to my teaching is having the students use the internet for any purpose outside of the practice room. With the looming deadline of concerts on the horizon and knowing parents and the administration judge most music learning from these performances, research as learning takes a back seat. Having said that, I will go by comments that I have gathered from fellow colleagues and teachers throughout my teaching experience.
A general music class was assigned a project to research a famous African American musician and create a story board on their life and musical skill. For the written part of this project, I helped the general music teacher with grading. After about 3 reports, the teacher did an interesting thing. She typed the musician's name into Wikipedia and started reading. 95% of the time, the students' writing was copied exactly from Wikipedia.
I know many others have talked about the need to teach students how to research correct and appropriate sites, but I think this task becomes a bit more difficult when given a person or project in which they have little or no background knowledge. Although the purpose of the project is to give the students a deeper understanding of the topic, this is where I believe it is necessary to have students and adults alike look at numerous sources and search for areas of similarity and differences. In this way, students will be forced to go beyond merely one site, not only for information's sake but for validation of that information as well. If a student finds five internet resources all stating the same "facts", they have a much greater chance of having found correct information than if they merely grabbed it from one site and wrote their whole paper based on this.
When one considers the wealth of information available on the web, I think we need to take more time having the students wade through this wealth of information correctly and efficiently, and the amount of information will actually serve to help the students commit true research. If students are ever to be "trusted" on their own with internet research, they must begin to understand how to evaluate the information on their own and not merely have a teacher say "these are the sites you should look for information on". What have we taught our students (upper grade levels) if we limit their ability to explore?
I believe that the old days of opening up encyclopedias or educational journals are gone as these resources can be quickly found online. The only thing left is to educate students with how to wade through the sea of information available to them which will only get larger as time passes.
For some additional information on how to evaluate websites for yourself and your students please check out: