Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online
Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online avatar

Last week, we finished a group assignment in my f2f classes that I think might migrate nicely to the online classroom.

The assignment asks students to think critically about web sources and has two parts: a larger group component and a partner presentation.

The first task is completed in even numbered groups of 4 or 6 students. Students first must define “information counterfeits” such as propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, fake news, and alternative facts. Students then are to find an example (either a general example or a specific item from a web site) of each. 

The first term they must define is information, which is sneakingly challenging. Last week a group identified statements such as “My flip-flops are black” and “Your hair is blond’ as information, and their discussion about how they might verify these statements led to more and more questions about how we verify facts—how do we agree on primary sources and where do we have consensus of basic facts?  In f2f classes, this activity generates much engagement and laughter and (hopefully) critical discussion.

The final part of this first component asks students to define the terms gullible, skeptical, and cynical. They then write a brief paragraph answering the following question: Using these terms, describe how careful consumers of information should approach what they see, hear, and read.

This activity culminates in a large group discussion in which I ask questions about how students normally seek out information. Where do you usually go? (A: Google, Yahoo, social media sites.) How do you know you can trust the information—that is, how do you know the information you’re consuming is not propaganda or disinformation? (A: never really thought too much about it, unless it’s obviously a spoof.)

This discussion leads nicely into an introduction of the partner presentation part of the assignment. The goal of this component is to simulate “real life” research. Students partner off and choose a topic to research. Topics are important: I let them choose anything . . . as long as it is one with competing viewpoints. The assignment asks students to find one trustworthy source and one untrustworthy source. A secondary objective if to find “gray area” web sources—ones that are not obviously trustworthy (like academic papers) or obviously untrustworthy (like a page with dancing gifs).

The presentation portion of the assignment is low key: the pair tells us what topic they are researching and then silently previews each of their sources—in no particular order—by slowing scrolling through the page. The class has to vote on which is the trustworthy source and which is the untrustworthy. After we’ve voted, the pair explains which is which, outlining at least five reasons why they found the source trustworthy or not. There are a few “rules”: no .edu, .gov, no sources found via the databases, and no Wikipedia sources.

In f2f classes, the first part of the assignment is completed using Google Docs and the second via the Discussions in Canvas.

I can imagine migrating this activity into an online classroom. I think it already features some of the key points from Janette’s video.

1) Student “buy-in
I think it has “buy-in.” The subtext of the activity (i.e. not being duped by stuff on the internet) offers buy-in, and students love the idea of researching anything they want and of finding tricky web sites.
2) Clear expectations
I’ve finessed this assignment for a few semesters, modifying it make sure it more accurately reflects “real life” scenarios, making the expectations realistic (I originally had students find three sources for each—too much!) and specific. I’m sure I can be more clear, though. If there is only one thing I’ve learned from teaching, I can never be clear enough!!

In the online classroom, I would want to try the presentations as a synchronous meeting. I first thought it would fine asynchronouslywith students recording and uploading their presentations for us to view (with a pause for voting)–but I’m leaning against this idea because is seems like mere delivery of information. I want the discussion that happens during the presentations, which I think might be more valuable than the actual presentations. I would love feedback from experienced online teachers, though. It seems like online students might resist synchronous meetings.
3) Baby steps
I think this assignment is a good example of the baby steps that Janette discusses. Just one tiny part of an essay—quality sources- ha!

One thought on “Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online
Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online avatar

  1. Hello,
    I am drawn to the part of this assignment that asks the students to consider “what’s not in the book and eventually argue how a new chapter on a specific topic would strengthen it. In other words, they get to join the conversation. What’s particularly challenging for students is making clear, meaningful connections. They have to know the book well in order to argue why a new chapter idea is a good fit; they have to be able to articulate, for instance, how a new chapter would build upon or set up existing chapters and ideas. It’s kind of like a book review. Kind of.” It is kind of a book review, but rather than indicating simply what is relevant or not, you ask them to continue the conversation. I really love this. Perhaps, I could use this in other formats ie: essays, counter arguments, and even to op eds, music etc…
    The group elements seems enough like the magazine that I ask my students to do that I could implement elements of your group assignment as well.
    I think perhaps a magazine and them a brochere that disagrees with the assertions made in the magazine accompanied by a reflection letter.
    Thanks for the great ideas!

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