During an in-class presentation about the musical festival Woodstock, a student cited “Joe’s website” as his source. I thought for sure that the student must have been referring to the rock group Country Joe and the Fish, whose performance at Woodstock is legendary, but I was wrong. The student was quoting an unknown Joe. At that moment, I knew I had to incorporate information literacy into my course.
This activity/lesson is divided into two parts. Instructors may or may not decide to follow up the first part (web evaluation) with the second part (oral citation of sources). Additionally, while this assignment was developed for a public speaking class, it can be modified for any subject matter.
(1) Many students seemingly grab web sites at random when selecting sources for a presentation. This activity/lesson seeks to minimize the eeny-meeny-miny-mo approach to selecting web sources by having students play an active role in the web evaluation process. To that end, one goal of this assignment is to present students with a practical guide to evaluate websites.
(2) Part of a speaker’s goal is to establish credibility. One way to do that is by using reputable sources. Of course, students must cite sources in order for audiences to know that the sources are credible. Despite my lecturing students about the importance of documenting sources and providing information about how to cite sources orally when giving their speech, students have problems that include:
Therefore, a second goal of this assignment is to introduce/reinforce a speaker’s ethical responsibility to provide oral citations for material gained from web research.
Part 1: Evaluation of Websites:
Day 1: (For this in-class activity, it is best for each group to have a laptop.)
Follow-up: I then direct students to go home and find ONE additional website that adheres to the criteria discussed in class.
Part 2: Presenting a Mini-Speech with Citations:
A discussion is an essential component as it connects both activities. Typically, a discussion occurs at the end of each activity. In Part One, Wikipedia is often a common topic. Students are also surprised to find that some of their preconceptions are unfounded. Thus, they learn that all .edu sites are not necessarily good, nor are all .com sites bad. In Part Two, students frequently reveal their belief that documenting sources undermined their credibility. Hence, they often did not document sources. Other students note the difficulty with creating a smooth citation.
Because students feel as if they are an active part of the evaluation process, they are connected to the activity. Rather than being handed a document that says, “This is what to look for in evaluating websites,” they have become active learners and are invested in the process. Giving the speech with citations wraps up both activities and allows students to experience the process to its fruition, presenting in front of an audience.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at email@example.com. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.
Professor, English Department
Community College of Rhode Island