Blog Assessment Assignment

Class Activity for Advanced Writing Courses (CO3xx)
(especially those sections with emphasis on multimodality)

Class Activity:    Blog Assessment                                    Author:  Beth Lechleitner
This assignment, which has homework and in-class components, is inspired by Session F16 at the Spring 2011 College Composition and Communication Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Italics represent instructions to the students.  Times are based on a 75 minute class period.

Objectives
It is not unheard of to find students, even those who are in their third or fourth year at the university, who have never physically entered the library on campus, despite writing many research papers: they have accessed source materials through the library’s electronic, rather than physical, portals.

We are right to assume that our students are, in general, at home on the Internet. (See this Youtube video about a two-year-old’s first interaction with an iPad for a glimpse of the next generation!)

But we are wise not to confuse familiarity with mastery.  While students may navigate the Web with ease and speed, they are not necessarily adept at assessing the value of what they find there.  We, as instructors of advanced writing courses, can help students extend their critical thinking skills to electronic sources, even those of us who are envious of (and maybe intimidated by) our students’ comfort in the electronic realm.

But where to begin?  This activity focuses on blogs. Essentially electronic journals with an audience beyond the composer—blogs provide a manageable slice of cyberspace, are ubiquitous and are not only easy to navigate, but simple to create.

Applying critical reasoning to the Web is the challenge that Mark Baildon and James S. Damico address in “How Do We Know?: Students Examine Issues of Credibility With a Complicated Multimodal Web-Based Text”: this article is a good companion to the activity presented below

This activity familiarizes writers with blogs,* challenges them to consider how to evaluate blogs and, combined with examination of their own and various professional guidelines, provides them with a strong set of criteria for determining the effectiveness and credibility of any blog.  It aims to make students better consumers of the Internet as researchers, and it also lays a foundation for them to create their own blogs should that be an option for them.   Specifically, writers will

  • Deepen understanding of the possible components of a blog, as well as each component’s function
  • Learn how to determine the credibility of a blog by brainstorming their own criteria and incorporating others from sets of established measures
  • Connect rhetorical theory to their own writing (through reading by Mark Baildon and James S. Damico).

This activity contributes to the following goals of an advanced writing course as specified by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE):

1. Extend rhetorical knowledge:

a) Use texts from rhetoric, discourse studies, communication, or related disciplines to extend understanding of rhetorical concepts to the discipline that is the focus of the course.
b) Develop sophisticated strategies for critical analysis of disciplinary or specialized discourse.
c) Learn more sophisticated ways to communicate knowledge to appropriate audiences.

2. Extend experience in writing processes:

d) Use a variety of technologies (writing and research tools).
e) Learn to evaluate sources for accuracy, relevance, credibility, reliability, and bias.

3. Extend mastery of writing conventions.

a) Select and adapt genre conventions for disciplinary or specialized discourse.
b) Use specialized vocabulary, format, and documentation appropriately.

4. Demonstrate comprehension of content knowledge at the advanced level through effective communication strategies, including:

c) Ability to adapt content and style to respond to the needs of different audiences and rhetorical situations in disciplinary or specialized discourse.

Preparation
Timing: This activity is appropriate either when students are beginning to investigate possible issues about which to write public arguments or after students have defined their focus.

Background information:  The article “How Do We Know?: Students Examine Issues of Credibility With a Complicated Multimodal Web-Based Text”  by Mark Baildon and James S. Damico (available in Readings in Rhetoric for Advanced Writers), is good preparation.  The authors remind us that, in assessing Web sources, we don’t have to start our criteria list from scratch, rather we can begin with the assessment tools we use for print sources.  They also suggest that consumers may be especially susceptible to emotional appeals in this medium, perhaps because it relies heavily on images.

The video Web 2.0: The Machine is Using Us provides some historical perspective and may initiate some fruitful class discussion especially about authorship and integration of image and text.

Samples: You will also find it useful to spend a little time at the two blogs which the activity references:andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com and mymomsblog.blogspot.com.  These will give you, and your students, a taste of the range of blogs:  Sullivan’s is typical of a professional journalist’s and the other is home-grown.  Consider using them in class to model the homework portion of the assignment, noting how each is structured and assessing their credibility.

  andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com http://mymomsblog.blogspot.com/
Structure (observation) Dated entries, most recent first
  Entries several times a day Entries several days apart
  The header with cartoon of the author Header with title and picture of a flower; short bio on right with photo of Millie (we assume) in her wedding gown
  Links to Email, Tweet, Like Links to videos featuring Millie, Flicker, Tweet
  Tone is friendly, but professional Tone is friendly, humorous, engaging
  Use of still and moving images
Credibility (assessment) Connection to respected publication,Newsweek, evident in header, links to other parts of Newsweek increases credibility No obvious connection to sponsoring organization; suggests less credibility; header more informal, suggests this is a personal blog
  Bio for author easy to find by searching his name on the Internet: link to Wikipedia entry (could lead to discussion of Wikipedia accuracy)  Can students find Sullivan’s bio through Newsweek? Searching her name brings up link to her blog, Facebook, etc., suggests she is not a professional writer
  Function for searching within the Blog, suggests greater sophistication Function for searching for other blogs at Blogspot emphasizes lack of association with a particular organization; doesn’t necessarily damage credibility, but doesn’t build it
  Links to other articles in the publication by other authors emphasizes association with magazine List of favorite sites suggests this is a more personal blog
  Frequent activity (daily, sometimes multiple times a day) suggests information is fresh Less frequent entries suggests that author is not very active, which doesn’t necessarily make it less credible
  Links to email, tweet, etc make interaction easy and inviting Response mechanism not as easy to access, makes this less a dialogue.

It is helpful to have discussed (having students generate most of the content) what criteria should be used to assess the credibility of a print source. (You may have to acquaint them with what a print source is!)

This activity could naturally follow some introduction to multimodal rhetoric, but not much other preparation of students is necessary, or even desirable, as this is intended to promote learning-by-discovery.
If you want students to include screen captures in their descriptions of the blogs they choose (as these instructions direct), you may want to teach them how to do this before assigning the homework (or call on a student with this skill to tutor the class).
Before the class discussion of the homework portion of the activity, you may want to think about how to split the class into four groups (if you don’t want to do this on the fly).  Each group will be assigned one established Internet assessment guide, as specified later in this document.

Activity Instructions for Students

Objectives
These days, it seems that everyone who is anyone—from leading journalists+   to your Aunt Millie++—writes a Blog: a public diary of thoughts and reflections (you will find nearly a hundred just about fly fishing!)  You may regularly visit one and not even know that it is a blog, as we often call anything found on the Internet a “website.”  Blogs can be valuable resources of information which you might use in building an argument.  But if not carefully chosen through critical evaluation, they can also harm your Ethos.  How do you know if the blog you are reading is the credible, in-depth work of a professional, or the unsubstantiated opinion of the misinformed?  And what if you want to create your own blog?  What should it look like?  What kinds of information and resources might it include?  What do the readers of blogs expect?  In short, what are the conventions of this genre? This activity will help you develop answers to these questions, making you a better consumer and a more prepared creator of blogs. Specifically, the objectives of this activity are to help you

            1. Understand what distinguishes a blog from other information available through the Internet, Websites for instance. 
            2. Develop a set of criteria for assessing the credibility of a blog

+see andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com
++see mymomsblog.blogspot.com

Homework Instructions
Find a blog with information related to an issue about which you might want to compose an argument.  Familiarize yourself with the blog:  read some of the entries, follow links, look at pages, etc.; then write

1. A one to two page, single spaced description of the blog, include the URL and such things as numbers and title/foci of pages, links, structure (which page do you see first, for instance), visual components such as video or still images, audio components such as music, sound effects or interviews.  Include in your description a screen shot of one page from the blog (the home page perhaps, or another which you find particularly noteworthy). 

2. A one-half to one page, single spaced evaluation of the blog’s credibility: would you recommend this blog to other writers as a reliable source of information?  Why or why not?   

Your writing for this activity will not be assessed for grammar, mechanics or style: focus on content.

Whole Class Discussion

Part 1:  Determining blog conventions

Pre-writing   (5 minutes)
Please answer the following questions in preparation for class discussion about the homework activity for today.

  • When completing the homework for today, how did you know that you had found a blog and not some other Web resource (a Web site for instance), or did you?
  • Did you somehow limit your search of the Internet to ensure that you would get only blogs?  If so, what did you do?

Discussion (10 minutes)
Follow this pre-writing with a brief discussion of the answers, pointing out what differentiates a blog from a Website (e.g. dated entries), and how to limit searches to find only blogs (use Advanced Search to specify blogs).  Then ask students to share, based on their completed homework (which they should have in front of them), what different types of information they found dated entries, photos, links, etc. (this is based on #1 in the homework above) and how the blogs they studied were organized.  Capture these on the board or a projected slide as they are generated.  (Creating a slide gives you an efficient way to add the information to the class Website.)

Part 2: Assessing Credibility

Pre-writing   (5 minutes)
Now that you have some ideas about WHAT a blog is, reflect (in writing) on the criteria you used, when completing the homework, to determine the credibility of the blog you found.  HOW did you decide whether the blog provided accurate and reliable information?  (You may want to start with your answer to questions #2 in the homework, especially what you wrote about why you would or would not recommend this blog to others.)

Discussion (10 minutes)
Have students share the criteria they used; capture these on the board or a projected slide as they are generated.

In-class Group Work on Assessing Credibility (15 minutes)
After the criteria list is generated, form four groups and assign each team one of the following Web source assessment tools:**

1. Cornell University
http://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/ref/research/webeval.html

2. Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab
http://captology.stanford.edu/resources

3. CARS
http://www.andyspinks.com/researchhelp/web/CARS.pdf

4. Colorado State University
http://lib.colostate.edu/tutorials/webeval_info.html

Each student should quickly review the content of the assigned tool and then come together with other group members to discuss the following:

Compare the criteria in the assigned tool to the list we generated as a class. Note the similarities and differences between the lists.  Advocate for adding or deleting any from our class list based on your review and discussion of the formal assessment tool assigned to your group.  

Whole Class Discussion on Assessing Credibility (15 minutes)
Bring class back together and have each group report on their conclusions from the group discussion about which criteria should be added—and/or deleted—from the class-generated list.

Closing Remarks, Integration with Students’ Own Writing  (5 minutes)
Send students off knowing that they now have

  • a better understanding of what a blog is and what its possibilities are, knowledge which they can use in assessing the effectiveness of a particular blog and/or in creating their own.
  • expanded skill in assessing credibility of a source, in particular adapting to online resources the best practices they already use and adding criteria specific to the electronic media.

Post-activity Reflection  (5 minutes)
Please spend a moment before you leave to reflect on today’s activity.  After completing the homework, class discussion and group work, do you find that  
a)  you didn’t really need this activity because you already knew what a blog is and how to evaluate its credibility
b)  you had some knowledge, but this activity expanded your skills
c)  you didn’t have a clue about what a blog is or how to evaluate on, but now you at least have a place to start.
Explain your answer. 

*Notes and Possible Modifications 

This activity can easily focus on Websites rather than blogs (or do both).

Students need not be creating their own blogs (or other Web-based material) for this assignment to be useful.

This could be structured as two separate activities (necessary in a 50-minute class): one on what a blog is and one on how to evaluate a blog (or any Internet resource).

The written portion of the homework may be completed in hardcopy, or as a forum (or even blog) entry in Writing Studio, etc.  And, of course, participation and thoroughness increase in proportion to number of points associated with the homework.
In class, before discussion of the homework, students could read the homework of at least one fellow student.  If these are available in a forum (or blog), students might reply to the entries they read by noting any similarities and differences between what they and their peers discovered.

**Another useful model for assessing Web sources is included in “Integrating literacy, technology and disciplined inquiry in social studies: The development and application of a conceptual model” by James Damico (Indiana University, Bloomington), Mark Baildon (Taipei American School) and Gerald Campano (Indiana University, Bloomington):http://thenjournal.org/feature/92/