Sam Wineburg's recent research shows that I was wrong.
Wineburg has confirmed the suspicion that many have had regarding student's use of Internet sources. Students are too trusting of what they read on the Internet. Most striking, they implicitly trust Google to verify sources for them--whatever Google lists first, they figure must be a good source.
Even when asked to verify the accuracy of pages they read, they do poorly. They are suckers for a slick looking page, and for the self-description of the authors--i.e., if the authors say "we are a non-profit, devoted to the welfare of children," students are all too likely to believe them.
I think my assessment of 21st century skills as a small part of what student need to know was inaccurate, because evaluating sources on the Internet is such a substantial part of student work today.
In addition, I've always thought that the solution is for students to understand what the heck you're reading about. You won't fall for the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus hoax page if you know even a little bit about cephalopods. I thought that because of work showing what I took to be the limited utility of reading comprehension strategies, and the decisive importance of content knowledge to comprehension.
But Wineburg and his associates have shown that there's a useful, content-free strategy that could a big difference in student assessment of website accuracy. Through study of professional fact-checkers, Wineburg suggests that students be taught to
1) read laterally. Instead of going through a checklist of features of the website in question (the usual advice) encourage students to get OFF the website to see what others say about it. That's the way to discover that it's actually a front for a hidden organization, for example, or has some other agenda.
2) show click restraint. That's Wineburg's term for refraining from clicking on the first result from a Google search. Instead, students should peruse the short sentences accompanying each result to get a sense of what they'll find on each site
3) use Wikipedia wisely. There's more information on Wikipedia than the main article, and Wineburg specifically recommends the "Talk" page, which include ongoing conversation about more controversial aspects of the article topic and can be especially revealing.
I'm not buying the whole 21st Century Skill bill of goods....but Wineburg's work on Internet search is hugely valuable, and I think all educators should know about it.
Here's a free, recent article summarizing it from Wineburg, written with his colleagues Sarah McGrew, Teresa Ortega and Joel Breakstone.