I may be teaching a section or two of Speech 101 this fall. Yahoo! I love teaching speech. The study of public speaking requires a discussion of so many diverse yet interconnected topics: politics, democracy, civic responsibility, philosophy, psychology, language…. Speech class is a chance to discover your inner Renaissance man.

Among the many topics we can discuss in an introductory speech class is information literacy. Actually, literacy, the ability to make sense letters and words, may no longer be a sufficient term. Aaron Barlow suggests neteracy, a term that perhpas better captures the idea that we have to understand not only the words on the page but where those pages come from and how they relate to other pages in the many networks of knowledge and knowers.

Given how much information speakers get from the Internet (will any of my students cite books?), it is vital that we talk about critically evaluating Internet sources. Howard Rheingold posts a wonderful article on SFGate’s City Brights on how to evaluate information on the World Wide Web. He honed his online crap detection skills in the crucible of practice, teaching his daughter how to filter the good from the bad online just as search engines took off at the turn of the century. He lists a number of useful tips and resources for evaluating the quality of sources:

  • Look for real people. Hidden identity is signal #1 for suspicion (shades of my stance on anonymity online).
  • Use easywhois.com to see who owns the website.
  • Look at who the author links to and who links to the author (in Google, do the latter by searching “link:http://… and the URL of interest”)
  • Triangulate: check mulitple sources!

Expect this article to make my reading list for Speech 101.