Researchers from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi have been interested in the exercise of critical thinking when browsing the Internet. This is particularly important when it comes to young people, who make the Internet their primary source of information. We offer you a file related to their research.

A joint dossier of École branchée and Carrefour education. This subject has also been explored in many articles in our professional periodical.

by Patrick Giroux, Mathieu Gagnon, Stéphanie Lessard and Josiane Côté


The use of the Internet for leisure and study is increasingly widespread among young people. This trend imposes an increasingly urgent responsibility on the school: it must help to equip students to use the Internet in a thoughtful, prudent and responsible manner, and to develop their aptitudes to do effective research and to judge. the quality of the information.

This is what motivated professors Patrick Giroux and Mathieu Gagnon, in collaboration with their students Stéphanie Lessard and Josiane Cornut, from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, to carry out research on the critical skills of future teachers.

Summary of the file

To be a critical researcher:
1. Define the subject of your research according to the context
2. Search for information
3. Evaluate each new source
4. Use and cite information correctly

Internet in the lives of young people

How important is the Internet to young people?

The Internet occupies an important place in the lives of young people. For 10 years, Internet consumption has increased steadily, to the point that this medium is now more important than television.

According to studies, young people sail up to 16 hours a week. If we consider the habit of consuming several media at the same time (listening to music while browsing the Web or chatting), young people today would be exposed to 7 hours of media a day! They love social networks, among other things. The Internet has become a place where they meet, discuss, exchange, share ... The highest media consumption is reported by young people aged 11-14, as they enter their adolescence and build their personal, social and personal identity. professional.

Recently, the emergence of mobile devices has contributed to the increase in young people's access to the Internet. These devices would be partially responsible for a real explosion in terms of media consumption. Thus, if young people are watching more and more TV programs, they do not do so in front of the television, but rather on the Internet (via a computer or a mobile device). The same is true for music and for books and magazines.

From a school point of view, the Internet is undoubtedly the main source of information for young people to do their school work. However, it appears that they use the Internet much more at home than at school. Young people are interested in learning how to better search and evaluate information found online. On the other hand, they question the skills of the majority of their teachers in this area.

Internet, a large library?

In a traditional library, managers choose to purchase and categorize books according to literary genre, subject, or target audience. On the shelves, there are also DVDs, video tapes, microfiche or audio tapes all selected according to the purpose of the library. These media are then classified or organized according to a logic, which increases accessibility for users and facilitates management.

The reader who takes a book in his hands quickly finds certain information concerning its author, its publisher, its publication date and its reissue ... All this information makes the book less anonymous and facilitates the verification of its credibility.

In a library, the most controversial books and resources or the content of which is dangerous or less socially or politically acceptable can even be removed or filed in a space where access is controlled or supervised. Librarians will also make sure that the volumes are tidy and available where they should be. Obsolete material will be placed next to newer resources for ease of comparison. It can also be removed from the shelves and archived or classified in a special section. In short, a library is subject to some control and is organized according to rules defined for each institution.

Internet, a huge mess?

On the Internet, the situation is very different. Even though some countries try to control the Internet, all of its content is not supervised by anyone. Laws that govern everyday life and prevent, for example, professing threats or impersonating someone exist, but are often difficult to enforce. There is no rule that allows or prohibits someone from posting on the Internet. There are no comprehensive directories where sites are registered and categorized or based on the age of the user. To find their way around, Internet users have to rely on search tools controlled by third parties that have their own objectives. This goal is often to make a profit!

For some content available on the Internet, the authors may not be identified, or no institution or company is responsible for the site. Nothing obliges the person in charge of a Web site to indicate when it put on line and if it made frequent or recent updates. On the web, an author could easily lie about their identity, experiences, content, or goals.

The Internet is therefore not a vast virtual library, and a web page is not a book. With the arrival of Web 2.0 and social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, iIt's now even easier to express yourself online and make all kinds of things. Despite the efforts of some search engines to tidy it up, a real mess reigns in this digital world. It's probably best to think of it as a big virtual green board with chalk lying around left and right.

Put your critical thinking into practice

What is critical thinking?

The Internet confronts young people with information from a variety of sources of varying quality and credibility. Two skills are essential to develop that are linked to critical thinking: searching for information and judging the quality of the sources found. These two skills go hand in hand to becoming an informed, competent and effective researcher.

One of the characteristics of critical thinking is the evaluative mode on which it is based. This means that the exercise of critical thinking consists of engaging within an evaluative process by which information will be judged according to different criteria: clarity, reliability, relevance, quality. In order to judge information, the critical thinker will take care to go beyond his personal impression by relying on determining reasons.

How to promote the development of critical thinking?

Developing students' critical thinking in the face of information disseminated on the Web means providing spaces in which they will be invited to reflect on the development process, the value, the scope and the limits of the information, which they are scientific or not.

It is not simply a question of identifying the source, the author, the date or the place in order to conclude that the relation to information is part of a critical process. It is not enough to name its source, it is still necessary to explain how it is credible, reliable and appropriate to the context. In short, we have to get to the bottom of things.

Different skills serve as a guide to the evaluation of information:

  • analyze the arguments;
  • assess and evaluate observation reports and inferences (deductions and inferences);
  • assess and evaluate value judgments (distinguish “facts” from opinions);
  • identify and assess assumptions and frames of reference (often implicit);
  • identify and assess conclusions and consequences;
  • assess consistency and identify contradictions;
  • evaluate definitions;
  • appreciate clarity and seek clarification;
  • formulate questions for clarification;
  • examine the different possibilities and seek alternative points of view;
  • research and assess evidence;
  • have confidence in reason, seek and appreciate rigor, pick up on sophisms;
  • examine the statements in the light of the standards relating to the principles and methods of the areas called.

It is a question of giving the pupils the opportunity to reconsider their own approaches and their ways of seeing things, in order to examine and evaluate them. It seems valuable to offer situations in which they will be invited to reflect, discuss, evaluate and modify their strategies.

In short, if we want to help students develop their critical thinking in the face of information available on the Internet, it will be valuable to offer them situations in which they will be called upon, in a reflective manner, to seek, evaluate and select something. information based on this assessment.


Become a critical researcher, step 1:
Define the subject of your research according to the context

Determine the topic and identify the main ideas

When he embarks on a information search processBoth experts and beginners will benefit from clearly defining their intentions and the context of their quest. To do this, he will need a simple sheet of paper that will be used to organize all the information and refer to it throughout the process. In a school where computer resources are less accessible, this first step can very well be done in class, before going to the computer.

To start, you must indicate the research object at the top of the page. In one or two sentences, the student will summarize the key concepts and their relationships.

Then, he will have to identify the main ideas of the subject sentence. It appears advantageous to highlight each one with a different color. This color code can be reused to classify the references found or to more easily find information related to one or other of the important ideas. For each important idea, he will need to make a short list of keywords or synonyms. These can be used in engines and databases at the research stage. The critical researcher will add key words and cross out some of them throughout his research according to the information found or not, the new expressions encountered, etc.

Identify the limits of your search for information

The information seeker should use the space left at the bottom of the sheet to define the context and the boundaries that must be respected. Here are some sample questions to help him identify it.

● How will he know he has found the right information?

● What are the evaluation criteria for this work? What is the mandatory information?

● Does the information search refer to a particular historical period, territory or country?

● Do the sources of information have to be in another language (eg for an English or Spanish course)? If the researcher speaks only French, he may need to limit himself to sources of information in French.

● What type of information is most needed? Textual explanations, diagrams or a video? Should we know the opinion of certain groups or proven and verified facts?

Again, it is likely that the researcher will have to add or modify boundaries as they discover their topic, explore it, and learn to understand it better.

Become a critical researcher, step 2:
Search for information

On the web or not?

Before you even start to search and throughout the search, you have to decide whether it is appropriate to search the web. It's the “Why” of the Media Awareness Network. The researcher must weigh the pros and cons, assess whether the Web meets his needs and weigh the advantages and disadvantages compared to the library, specialists, newspapers ...

Encyclopedias, specialized books and scientific journals are sources that require criticism and analysis of the information they present, but they often already have some established credibility. These kinds of references can be found on the web as well as in the library, and in both cases they are more or less ranked among many other types of information sources. In the library, the classification may be easier and the librarians will be able to assist the student-researcher. Finally, if he decides to go on the Web, he will probably be alone (without assistance) and will have to be very critical of each site he sees.

With what tools?

Then, once the researcher has decided to go on the WebIn order to do this, the user must determine where to look for information. There are many options: bibliographic databases, general or specialized search engines, dictionaries, encyclopedias, blogs, wikis, discussion forums... Each option has advantages and disadvantages that must be evaluated according to the context, needs and objectives.

When to stop looking?

The researcher must then decide how many tools to use. After all, two different tools report different results. During each new attempt to locate information, it is also necessary to determine which limits to impose (date, region, language, etc.) and which combinations of keywords to use. Above all, you have to decide when to stop looking. Each of these decisions will require reconsidering the context and objectives described in the subject sentence and on the sheet.

Become a critical researcher, step 3:
Evaluate your sources

Throughout the search for information, each new reference will have to be evaluated. Each time, the student will have to be critical of his utility, his reliability and his credibility. Several criteria can be used. The "Cyberspace issues" of the Media Awareness Network seem generic enough to assess information from different contexts.


The authors or those responsible for the information presented are an important element. Competence and educational credentials are not always the only factors to consider when it comes time to judge the author and his credibility. Information needs and related experiences must be taken into account.

On the web, the author or those responsible are not always easy to identify, as it is possible to post content anonymously. It is then difficult to judge the author's credibility and the information loses some of its value. The researcher will therefore have to do additional research to consult his personal website or that of the organization that employs him. He should be able to contact the author with questions or comments. The contrary would be worrying and raise questions.

One element that sometimes makes it difficult to identify the author or responsible party is the ease with which digital content is put online. Sometimes you can find dozens of copies of a resource and all of them have been posted by different people, as is often the case on YouTube. It will then be necessary to be more attentive to the contents and to locate information on their origin (name of the interviewed specialist, title of the TV show). The author is not necessarily the person who placed the content online. We must then question ourselves and try to identify the people or institutions who are responsible for the words and ideas presented.


One of the hardest aspects to criticize is the content itself. If we are looking for information, it is often that we do not master it sufficiently. There are several things to take into account and some are most frequently found “between the lines”. Students make the common mistake of skipping reading or consulting the resource in depth.

On the Web, there are many authors and their motivations vary widely. It is important to constantly question yourself in order to distinguish opinions from more factual information, and to avoid being convinced by information that is more opinion than fact by an author who appeals to our feelings. It is then necessary to avoid the sources which disguise opinions or beliefs by dressing them with a scientific, specialized or apparently logical discourse. It happens that we present, voluntarily or not, as proven cause and effect relationships which are, in fact, difficult to demonstrate. A thing? Be attentive and doubt almost systematically. When in doubt, the best advice is to use another method or another source of information to cross-check information. Both sources of information are used in a complementary manner to validate the information.

On the web, you can use this method. When reading a report or after listening to a video, one can check certain aspects in an encyclopedia and look for other sources which confirm the existence of a relation between two aspects. You can also go to other sites. Normally, credible and reliable information can be verified easily.

Is the information found complete? Does the site cover the question or subject? The researcher can also update incomplete information, detect "holes", voluntary or not. Indeed, an author or an organization may decide to avoid discussing certain aspects, forget to do so or omit it out of ignorance. It is better to know this before placing your trust in a source of information!

How? 'Or' What?

How is the information presented? The visual aspect, the ease of navigation, the colors, the spacing, the fonts, the images, the division of the text into small portions, the titles for easy identification, the hyperlinks are important elements relating to the presentation. A site should also be easy to navigate. The objective and the subject covered should be clearly identified as well as the different parts of the site. In general, web professionals will also favor the use of visual aids.

It is also appropriate to check whether the site is substantial and whether it actually delivers the information advertised on the home pages. Some sites project a certain image to attract visitors and then present other content, which damages credibility (for example, This site (e.g., uses the image and name of the U.S. black rights advocate, but advocates white supremacy). The level of language should also be adapted to the target audience: can a site that is supposed to be aimed at 6 to 11 year olds be considered credible if it presents "adult" ads or pages full of tight, complex text?

Authors of serious sites will often provide leads to help begin the triangulation discussed earlier or to delve deeper into the topic at hand. They will indicate, by hyperlinks or references, sites which confirm their words and others which have different points of view. Information from elsewhere should be easily recognizable and facilitate criticism. Sometimes authors cite and support each other, but never really provide solid evidence. When in doubt, it is sometimes better to do your own checks by finding other sources that may or may not confirm the information originally found.


The date the website was put online or the date of the last update contributes to the assessment of the value of the information. Thus, the researcher who is planning his summer vacation will not wish to rely on a site that has not been updated for 18 months!

But the date is not always easy to find. Sometimes at the bottom of the pages, presented for each post on a blog. On wikis, you may have to explore the history to find it. If it is missing or if the information has been online for a very long time, the researcher will have to judge the credibility and relevance of the information by referring to other criteria.

he can check whether the links on the visited web page work. This aspect is a good indicator of how often a web page is maintained. However, not all of the pages were necessarily uploaded at the same time. On blogs, for example, authors revisit their old posts more or less regularly, although they continue to post new ones.


Each site available on the Web has a specific address which is also called a URL. As they carry details that help to evaluate information, the researcher will benefit from knowing how to decipher them.

An applied example of critical analysis

This file from Carrefour education about the Internet and the law, will serve as an example.

1st part (protocol): indicates that it is a hypertext document.

In the example, the protocol is “http”. Some URLs start with "https", which indicates that it is a secure page, others with "ftp", which allows the transfer of a file between two computers, others "IRC" , which are chat sessions.

2e part (domain name): name of the host, person or body responsible for the site or page consulted.

This is the most interesting part of the URL, since the domain indicates a person or organization that has some responsibility for the information. In the example, the page is located inside the “” domain.

The domain could help the searcher trace back to the author by shortening the URL. In the example, the researcher who would have fallen directly on the page given as an example without knowing Carrefour education could direct his browser to to find out more exactly where it is and who is endorsing the information found.

3e part (extension): the end of the domain.

The extensions are more or less standard. In the example, the “” indicates a Quebec site. Several domains provide information on their geographical origin, while others provide information on their nature. See the list of extensions.

4e part (directory): indicates in which directories and sub-directories on the servers of the organization or of the site host are the files or the page consulted and in what format.

Become a critical researcher, step 4:
Use and cite information correctly

This is the important moment when the student will have to articulate information together to build a coherent whole (summary, research paper, opinion in a debate, answer to a question...). The critical researcher dispose however, tools and elements that will help him in this task. He, for example, identified the strengths and weaknesses of each source. He triangulated the information and saw what was and was not unanimous. He distinguished opinions from proven facts. He assessed the level of credibility of the authors.

The critical researcher should use the observations he has made and the result of applying the criteria described earlier in this dossier in order to better articulate the information found in relation to each other, to put emphasis on what is proven or distinguish it from the opinions expressed by some authors.

Case analysis 1:
Use a video on Youtube

Emilie is in 6e year of primary school and must research an animal from another country. As a first step, her teacher asked her to choose an animal. While searching on Youtube and questioning her friends, she discovers a video which presents a scientific-looking documentary on a little-known European animal: the dahu. At first glance, this video may appear genuine due to its presentation as a documentary. The use of scientific terms, the presentation of the animal in its natural habitat and the interview with a dahu specialist are elements which seem to suggest a substance of truth. It is still important to question the credibility of the information presented in this documentary. Here is, by way of example, what Emilie might have noticed.


Émilie decided to search the web because it is very fast. The available search engines allow it to target a region or a type of content, thus excluding Canada from its searches. Since she has access to the Internet at home, she does not have to travel. She then knows that she will find textual information, but also photographs or videos.


The first seconds of the video very quickly present “Supinfocom, Valenciennes”. It is not a known organization, institution or association, and there is no way to reach them. On the Web, it is said that it is a computer graphics school: “Superior School of INFOrmatique de COMmunication” located in the city of Valenciennes. On the school website, there is no trace of the video.

In the video, Hartmutt Ziedler is introduced as “the eminent dahu specialist”. Nothing is said about his training or how to reach him. He only has a Facebook account. The other links listed all lead to the video. It is also mentioned that the European Union is protecting this animal, but there is no logo or link to reach those responsible. And on the Union website European Union, no information on the protection of dahu.

In the final credits, we present the directors of the video: Thibeault Berard, Vincent Gautier and Frederique Gyuran. But no information about them or any link to reach them. They give more or less serious thanks (dad, mom, Garfield…).

So far, the simple question "who" makes us very doubtful of the information presented in this video. No one takes responsibility for the content, no information about the authors is presented and it is not possible to reach them. We cannot therefore verify whether the authors are a credible source of information.


The information presented gives a good overview of dahu. The language used is clear and sometimes falls within the scientific domain. The authors do not appear to have been guided by their feelings or opinions. It is a presentation of facts which explain for example the origin, the habitat, the mode of reproduction, etc.

The video was produced in a foreign language, first translated into English, then retranslated into French. No link leads to other sites to complete the information. In addition, the information presented is inconsistent with other sources of information found on the web. In an online dictionary Or on Wikipedia, we discover that the dahu is an imaginary animal. The information presented in the video cannot be corroborated with an outside resource. The reliability of the information is therefore severely tested.

In addition, the information presented is sometimes completely ridiculous. For example: "To hunt dahu, put pepper on its tail, it will turn around and fall from the mountain." We don't have to be an expert in terrestrial wildlife to understand that this is wacky information.

How? 'Or' What?

When listening to the video, we see that the information is presented in the form of a scientific report. The subject is brought in gradually and there is consistency between the ideas. The information is organized, it seems complete and easy to understand. These elements are positive.

On the other hand, no "copyright" protects the information presented and there is no indication of the possibilities of reusing the information. There is no link to find additional information. Sometimes the graphic definition of the video also suggests that it is an animation montage. The image of the animal seems to have been glued to the landscape.


No date is given in the documentary, but the information on the Youtube page presenting the video indicates that it was uploaded on October 30, 2007. It is however impossible to know if the video was older.


The video is featured on Youtube and is categorized as “humor”. No information can be found on the person who posted the video. Other Youtube users have also uploaded this video.

What conclusions should Emilie draw?

Overall, there are several aspects that taint the credibility of this video. The authors and the specialist are initially difficult to identify and reach. The information presented is then contradicted by other websites and the production date of the video is unknown. The fact that the video is classified in the “humor” category and that the comments are sometimes eccentric should also make her doubt. The sum of these elements should prompt Emilie to choose another animal for her schoolwork.

Case analysis 2:
Use a video on Facebook 

20-year-old Mélanie is studying preschool and elementary education at university. Social networks are part of his daily life. She socializes there and learns about current events. Recently, Mélanie listened to a video posted by one of her comrades and coming from Youtube. The content of the video “Children: Test Tubes on Legs” was so surprising that she wanted to use it in a future talk. She explains the existence of a link between hyperactivity in young people and food additives. Before producing her presentation, Mélanie should validate the content of her web source. Here's a look at what she would get.


At first glance, Mélanie considers the information presented to be interesting and plausible. She wants to work with children, so this video touches on one of her areas of interest. The report is apparently scientific and based on an experiment carried out in a primary school. Easy to consult and accessible from home, video is a medium rich in words and images.


In this video, there is no information about the actual person responsible for the content. It seems very much centered on the analysis of Ms. Sue Dengate presented in the report and on observations made on the ground. The specialist is described as an author and nutrition sleuth, but when you visit her own website, you learn that she graduated in psychology and was a teacher. It would rather be her husband who would have studied nutrition, being a doctor and scientist in this field.

His biography, his publications and his supposed research are also presented on the site. Several hyperlinks are available and often lead to another part of the site, or to other sites which present the same point of view. There are also news that all seem very alarming and more or less related to food intolerance or nutrition.

The link to attach her was non-functional at the time of writing this file. We are invited to buy his books and DVDs which decry an industry that would make our children sick. The site even presents the symptoms of food intolerance right from the home page. The length of the list appears implausible. These findings should lead Mélanie to doubt the credibility of the specialist's site and, consequently, to doubt Ms. Dengate's comments.

What? What information do we get?

The situation is presented with an alarmist tone. The message conveyed prompts the audience to ask questions and to doubt the effectiveness of the authorities responsible for food quality. The sources likely to support these statements are neither accessible nor clearly stated. It is mentioned thata study carried out in the United Kingdom is the basis of this experiment. But on the site of the " European Food Safety Authority ”, It is explained that this study does not provide evidence of a cause and effect relationship between the individual dyes and possible effects on behavior.

On the Web, several sites support this denunciation. Psychomedia is a Quebec site whose objective is the transmission of quality information in psychology. To submit an article, a simple email address is sufficient. It presents three articles on the subject, and refers to the study carried out in the United Kingdom. The same goes for the article on the Radio-Canada site. (No hyperlinks?)

While there is a plethora of sites with a link between food coloring and hyperactivity, they all cite the UK study as a scientific benchmark or refer to other articles that base their story on this study. . The subject of additives and hyperactivity appears on various forums and other sites without any scientific source.

Mélanie should start to question this information, because all the sources of information listed cite the same scientific reference that has been denied by a recognized body. In addition, on the school website Identified in the video, nothing mentions the school's participation in this experiment or the collaboration with Ms. Sue Dengate.

How? 'Or' What?

The information, presented in the form of a report, is coherent, understandable and plausible. Real students and adults are interviewed. Even if we suggest that there is a cause and effect relationship and that we put the emphasis on the change and the benefits of the experiment carried out, we do not offer any link or reference to deepen the subject.

Several important questions were not addressed in the video: How was the context controlled to prevent other elements from intervening in the experiment? Who was responsible and how were the children and their families supervised during the experiment? Can children and adults really decipher all the labels as it is suggested? Etc.

In short, we may have played with appearances and the evidence presented is insufficient or not defended. This could be voluntary or related to the format of the presentation which resembles a television report. More incidentally, the information presented does not seem to be protected by a "copyright" and there is no explanation on the possibilities of using it.


No date is present in the video.


This video is presented on Youtube and is called "Children: test tubes on legs" by solutionprudction. The information about the user who posted this video is irrelevant, we can not reach him or see his identity. A link leads to a site named " Health in danger " which offers other videos on the effect of food coloring on children's behavior. This site seems to report the same information, in the same tone, in the same way. We are offered to buy books and DVDs on similar subjects, but written by a French author.

What conclusions should Mélanie draw?

The credibility of the "scientist" should be seriously questioned. It is abnormal that her site does not provide references and no link to reach her. Hyperlinks too often lead to the same site or to the site of people or organizations who speak the same way based on the same facts. In addition, a recognized body criticizes the study on which the experiment is based. The somewhat alarmist tone of the video and the site of the “specialist” and the lack of scientific rigor in the experiment should convince Mélanie not to trust this video. The causal links presented do not seem to have been proven.

However, the checks carried out show that this subject is of interest to many people who seem to believe that certain food additives are dangerous. There seems to be room for debate. If the topic really interests her, Mélanie should do some additional research: look for articles that take a different point of view or that demonstrate more firmly that there is or is not a connection. She could also consult more serious articles on the subject that have been validated by other researchers specializing in the same field (validation by peers). She could also probably try to contact a specialist in her university or in her region who would be more able to enlighten her on the subject.

Conclusion and for more information:

- Read a popular science file on the same subject
- Download the webography, a directory of websites on information assessment and classroom instructional activities (PDF)
- Download the folder complete and more detailed (PDF)
- Read the file Develop critical practices on the Internet (from the same authors)
- Read the article Exploring a web page on the Media-Awareness Network website
- Download the webography, a directory of websites on information assessment and classroom instructional activities (PDF)

It is difficult to come up with a generic recipe that is suitable for all situations when it comes to judging or appreciating the quality, credibility or reliability of information found on the web. Indeed, the process and criteria differ depending on the context, the type of information sources we are dealing with, our skills and the subject. Often, it will be necessary to go back, start over, adapt ...

The 6 questions of cyberspace of the Media Awareness network are an excellent starting point. We will however add some nuances which are associated with the judgment of information and which require the implementation of critical practices.

Read on École branchée on the same theme: