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Melinda Fallon, George Mason University

Implementation

My class spent one period in a computer classroom to go over basics of the assignment. I made a PowerPoint presentation to help clarify the criteria for selecting websites, the addresses for accessing the webography etc. I limited the choice of websites to those addressing periods and topics we would cover after the midterm break.

To help students choose and evaluate the websites, I randomly assigned them to groups and opened a discussion forum for each group in WebCT, a course tool I used extensively for this and other aspects of the course. The students were notified that I would grade the level and quality of individual participation in the groups. The groups functioned as follows: The group's members each found two potential websites by looking on the web. They then shared the websites with other group members in the forum. Each member then visited the websites that the other members had independently selected as viable options for the webography, evaluated those websites using the rubric for webography entries, and shared the evaluations with the rest of the group.

I made the webography highly relevant to the course material by building upon it. In the second half of the course, students wrote essays putting into context one document found at one of the websites appearing in the webography. The essays served as starting points for weekly discussions in WebCT's discussion forum. They were graded apart from the database entry.

Learning Goals

One of the goals for the course is to teach students how to analyze and contextualize the information in historical sources. In themselves websites are electronic sources and their components can be various types of visual, audio, and textual sources. Part of analyzing historical source is establishing what kind of source is under consideration. The first part of the assignment, selecting websites and entering them in the webography, gave students practice thinking about the reliability of their sources and discerning the difference between primary sources and secondary sources. The second part of the assignment, writing an essay using one of the webography websites, allowed students independently to practice the kind of contextual analysis modeled during each class period.

Student Experience

The groups were not particularly successful. Three of the five groups were active only night before assignment due. The students in those three groups wrote cavalier comments that were less than insightful, critical, and helpful. As a result, several attempted to use websites that did not meet the criteria for the assignment. The other two groups vetted the entries of the members nicely.

Several students expressed concern that the inactivity of other group members would have a negative impact on their own grades. Only one student said that a fear of technology that prevented timely completion of the assignment. Otherwise none of the students stated that they loved or hated the assignment.

Assessment

The assignment helped to achieve the goal of raising awareness among the students of types of documents and their reliability among. It also tended to raise the grades of those who took the assignment seriously. None complained about the level of work required for the assignment.

Additional Comments

The assignment required relatively little additional instruction from me and was easy to grade. Integration into the course went smoothly.