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T. Mills Kelly, George Mason University
I have now completed my 2003-04 Technology Across the Curriculum (TAC) project, which was a follow up to the project I completed in the 2002-03 academic year using a database to teach students to choose appropriate websites for their research in History 100 (Western Civilization) at George Mason. Because the original project was a success, I expanded it to include other faculty teaching History 100, who also agreed to implement the "webography" database project in their versions of the course.
During the fall semester I demonstrated the webography project to the faculty teaching History 100 and proposed that they implement it in their course. To facilitate this implementation, I held a seminar/workshop for all interested faculty. Five of the 12 full time faculty teaching the course attended this workshop during December 2003. Of these four agreed to add the webography project to their versions of the course, but in the end, three actually did so. Thus, in the spring 2004 semester, four faculty--myself and three others (Jill Fehleison, Melinda Fallon, Mary Frances Giandrea)--used the database project in their course.
In brief, the webography project challenges students to locate websites containing a substantial number of primary sources from European history that are of a sufficiently high level of quality that the site is one that could be used for researching a topic in the course. Students are given a rubric for analyzing the quality of the information on a website, are trained in how to find the answers to the questions in the rubric, and collaborate with one another as they select their websites. Once the sites are selected, students rate their sites in the database and write a brief (250-300 word) annotation of the site. All student entries are then made available in the database. To date, more than 350 student-created entries exist in the project database. These entries not only offer evidence of student work, but also provide instructors with a means to demonstrate to their students how different students rate the same website in different ways.
Each of the four faculty members assigning the webography project in their courses used it in slightly different ways. Professor Fallon assigned the project in the second half of the semester and limited student choices to websites dealing with subject matter from the second half of the semester. Professor Giandrea followed a process similar to mine, in that she allowed students to select websites from the entire history of Western Civilization. Where in my course the students' grade for the project was dependent only on their own database entries, Professors Fallon, Fehleison, and Giandrea assigned a group grade as well. In my own version of the course, I required students to select three websites, share them with their learning group, and then post them to the database. Once all the sites were posted, we spent half a class period discussing selected examples of the students' work.
Faculty members assigning the webography project saw it as valuable and all cited significant improvement in their students' ability to select quality websites for use in their other work in the course. Each of the reports of the other faculty members using the project cites logistical glitches in their assignments that should be addressed before re-implementing the assignment in the fall 2004 semester.
I am now in my third rendition of the assignment and have decided to pare back the number of sites I ask students to review from three to two, and to change the assignment slightly. Where before I asked them to locate three sites and review them, in future I will ask them to first select one site in the current collection in the database and review the review of that site, that is, assess the quality of the student review of the site after visiting the site themselves. Then I will ask them to find a site of their own to review--one not in the current collection.
I am making this change for several reasons. The most important reason is that the number of sites in the database has grown large enough that students are beginning to find it difficult to locate new and different sites to review. Second, if they were to locate only new sites, they would be forced away from some of the top quality sites that I would like them to look at and review. Finally, by asking them to assess the quality of another student review, they will (I hope) gain valuable insights into the thinking process required to write such a review and will become more comfortable critiquing one another's work (a key component of my course in general).
I conduct my own end-of-semester survey of my students and many of them cited learning how to evaluate websites as one of the most important skills they acquired in History 100. Several wrote that before completing the webography assignment they had no idea how to evaluate the quality of a website and one wrote “it was kind of scary the websites I used.”
My on-going assessment of this project, dating back to the spring of 2003 is that very few of my students--meaning only one or two out of 50 in any given semester--turn in papers with poorly chosen websites once they have completed the webography project. In prior semesters as many as half of my students would receive reduced grades on writing assignments as a result of citing poor or misleading information from low quality sites.