Writing discussion questions


Zotero, cont’d

For homework I asked you to:

  1. Make an account in Zotero, and download both Zotero Connector (for Chrome) and Zotero 5.0 (the desktop application) to your laptop.
  2. Join our Zotero group, WRTf17 and find your group folder, which is labeled by section and group number (i.e. Section 3, Group 2 has the folder labeled “3.2”).
  3. Have each member of your group add a reading or two to your group folder on a phenomenon they’re interested in (or one you are already pursuing together).
  4. Tweet out one of these readings with a comment. Use both the course hashtag (#WRTf17) and the hashtag(s) of the phenomenon.
  5. Respond to a classmate’s post using the same hashtags.

Take a few moments in your group to catch up: How did this go? Help those who could not get up to speed with this. Call me over if you get stuck.

Mapping your phenomenon

At this point, your group should have saved and tweeted a few possible texts for this project. How might you articulate these into a proposal? How might this phenomenon provoke discussion? One way to keep track of your ideas is to develop a mind-map with bubble.us or Coogle. I recommend the latter since you can register quickly using your Rowan Google account, use it with groups, and embed maps easily:

You don’t have to organize your maps this way, but as you develop this project, aim to account for:

  • the definition of the phenomenon: what is it, who says, and/or what elements can be debated or resist consensus?
  • the history of the phenomenon: how does this phenomenon exist on a continuum? how is it a product or function of previous cultures, societies, and technologies?
  • hot takes in the news —  it’s likely that this is how you came across the phenomenon in the first place. why is it important now?
  • associated search terms —what are some related phrases or terms you should search as you seek to better understand this phenomenon?
  • counter-technologies — what tools, strategies, or literacies help us manage, expose, disrupt, or otherwise limit the malfeasance these phenomena cause us online and IRL?

So check in with each other. What are you thinking of choosing at this point? How much do you know about this and how it relates to other ideas? Use Coogle or another kind of map (you can use paper or the whiteboard too!) to develop a tentative plan or set of plans.

Discussion questions

Once you start focusing on a specific phenomenon, it’s time to begin thinking about:

  1. which readings you’re going to make us read and
  2. how you’re going to get us to talk about them.  As for the former, you should choose a reading or readings that help us understand the complexity, history, and newsworthiness of your phenomenon.

Aim to have us read 1-2 readings that total 2,500-3,500 words (not sure what the word count is? check out the Word Count Tool).

Once you have these set, you’ll want to develop a set of questions that will be asked initially over Twitter via asynchronous chats, but carry over into the classroom. In other words, while conversations will occur online before class, your group will have a chance to push on certain threads in class before unveiling your counter-technology. As such, we want to think about the kinds of questions that make group conversation meaningful. In your experience what makes a good discussion in the classroom and out?

This handout from a Canadian university walks us through some of this:


Let’s try this with a shared example.


Twitter chat

As part of this project, you are going to lead part of this discussion online through Twitter and IRL. So what’s a Twitter chat? This recent blog post from Hootsuite defines it as

a public discussion on Twitter around a specific hashtag … led by a designated moderator—brand or individual—who ask questions and facilitate the discussion at a predetermined time

While we won’t be having these chats synchronously, each group will choose a hashtag as well as a set of questions with clear labels (i.e. Q1, Q2, Q3) and post them to Twitter with our class hashtag, #WRTf17.

Before we meet in class, students will read the articles, find the group hashtags, and respond to your questions — and each other — using A1, A2, A3 so we can all keep track. Let try this with one of the above examples. Who would like to volunteer?

Homework for Tuesday, 10/24*

There is no class meeting on Thursday, 10/19; however, you need to meet as a group to develop your plan for the discussion. Whether that meeting occurs during class time on Thursday, at another time, or online is completely up to you. Your attendance to you meeting, however, will be considered when factoring your grade.

Keep me posted by having one group member email me a summary of your meeting, including a tentative plan for discussion that includes:

  • when and where you met and who was present
  • a 1-2 sentence definition of your proposed phenomenon
  • a ¶ detailing the history of the phenomenon
  • an evaluation of 3-5 articles in the news about your phenomenon — include links!
  • a list of search terms you are using
  • a list of 1-3 counter-technologies — with links!

*Please email me no later than Sunday night, 10/22.

Defining phenomena and managing online sources

We have a lot planned for today, including getting you up to speed on Twitter, developing strategies for defining the topics and phenomena for your project, and introducing you to some tools for managing sources.

Twitter, cont’d

On Tuesday, some of you had unexpected trouble with Twitter requiring your phone number. As you might know based on the reading for today, Twitter is trying to boost its verification procedures to block abusive accounts (from the Russian state, for example). If you’re still having trouble, these seem to be your options:

  1. Try again. Try making an account using your real name, but from a different device, machine, browser, etc. until it lets you make one. The problem here is that you need another email address.
  2. Create a phone number in Google Voice. Although Google Voice will require you to provide your real number (which Google will store in its database), at least Twitter won’t. You can then use the GV number for Twitter. See this page for help.
  3. Just use your phone number. This is not ideal, but this would be the easiest thing to get you in — plus, you can probably remove it once you have created an account. FYI, their privacy policy for your phone states this: “If you provide us with your phone number, you agree to receive text messages to that number from us. We may use your contact information to send you information about our Services, to market to you, to help prevent spam, fraud, or abuse, and to help others find your account, including through third-party services and client applications.” You can change this in your privacy settings and Twitter agrees that it will not include this identifier in its Log data. 
Once all is well and you’re online, please be sure to add your username (aka handle) to our blogroll.

Counter-technology project: a case study

By now you should have:

I mentioned on Tuesday that this process models (on an admittedly smaller scale) what I’m asking you to do for your project. Take 5-10 minutes to talk with your panel about this set of readings and via the following tasks. Have someone tweet out your answers (or share the task) using our hashtag #WRTf17.

  1. Describe or characterize certain phenomena, forces, technologies, or bad actors in these texts that require new digital literacies.
  2. Suggest additional readings that would deepen your understanding of these phenomena.
  3. Provide a list of search terms and keywords for such a search.
  4. Explain how these provoke certain counter-technologies, literacies, practices, or strategies.

Defining phenomena 

On Tuesday each section brainstormed some of the possible negative phenomena that requires new digital literacies:

These were generally good starting points, but they could be more specific. The next step is to learn more about how these phenomena could be more narrowed and complicated, just as we did in the example above. This means taking similar approaches, trying to better understand and define them. For each, you might:

  • Start with Wikipedia to evaluate the scope of a phenomenon — especially how it is defined, structured, and linked to other phenomenon.
  • Brainstorm and keep track of additional keywords or search terms as you read. By reading the Wikipedia entry for clickbait, for example, I see that “listicles,” “Buzzfeed,” or even “yellow journalism” might be good search terms. More importantly, I notice that “viral marketing” is listed as a “See Also,” which means perhaps my phenomenon is actually more broad than just “clickbait.”
  • Search Google News to see how the phenomenon is being discussed today. These might be the articles you assign our class when it is your panel’s turn.
  • Search Google Scholar and Campbell Library for books and other scholarly materials on the subject.
  • As you search also be on the lookout for counter-technologies — again defined as tools, strategies, or literacies that help us manage, expose, disrupt, or otherwise limit the malfeasance these phenomena cause us online and IRL.

Collecting sources with Pocket and Zotero

Reading online is fundamentally different than other kinds of reading, especially as we have grown to become more mobile with our devices. Hence, I want to introduce you to two apps that help manage reading and tracking sources, both of which have Chrome extensions.

  1. Pocket. Pocket is a read-it-later service (like Instapaper) that allows you to save readings as you go. I often save readings my friends share on Twitter or Facebook to Pocket and read it at a more convenient time. Pocket also allows you to tag and archive readings, making it handy for organizing readings. Pocket also makes apps for Mac, iOS, and other devices.
  2. Zotero. Zotero is a bibliography manager capable of sharing citations. Like Pocket, you can save readings, but unlike Pocket, Zotero will keep track of bibliographic info (authors, publishers, etc.). Zotero Groups also allow you to collaborate in ways that will be helpful for a project like this. In fact, your panel will be required to share your bibliography with the class using our course group, WRTf17.

Homework for Tuesday, 10/17

  • Make an account in Zotero, and download both Zotero Connector (for Chrome) and Zotero 5.0 (the desktop application) to your laptop.
  • Join our Zotero group, WRTf17 and find your group folder, which is labeled by section and group number (i.e. Section 3, Group 2 has the folder labeled “3.2”).
  • Have each member of your group add a reading or two to your group folder on a phenomenon they’re interested in (or one you are already pursuing together).
  • Tweet out one of these readings with a comment. Use both the course hashtag (#WRTf17) and the hashtag(s) of the phenomenon.[Example: “Here’s an op-ed from the @washingtonpost about the role of #clickbait in politics. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/steve-jobs-gave-us-president-trump/2017/09/05/f4f487e4-9260-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html?utm_term=.f0419276444c #WRTf17]
  • Respond to a classmate’s post using the same hashtags.[Example: “Skimmed this article quickly. Why did @facebook install a #clickbait filter when we need literacies! #WRTf17”]

Introduction to Unit 2

Today we’re talking about Unit 2 and Twitter, but before we do that, let’s review what’s due tonight:

  • Post your final Truth-o-meter fact-check as a new post. That is, do not overwrite the DRAFT post; instead create a new post so that I can compare the changes. This post is due by midnight tonight, unless you go to the Writing Center. If you do that, and you email me the client report form, you may turn in your work on Thursday (10/12) instead.

Unit 2 overview

Let’s look at Unit 2, the schedule, and get you into your panels for the unit:


 Section 3 (9:30)Section 4 (12:30)
Group 1Tori
Amanda S.
Group 2Darien
Group 3Amanda B
Group 4Brittany
Group 5Gia
Alexis E.

Trackers and nefarious hackers: why we need critical digital literacies and counter-technologies

You’ve had a lot of experience practicing basic web literacies using fact-checking sites like Snopes, Politifact and Wikipedia; going upstream for original source material, and assessing credibility by reading sources laterally. Although we dabbled in the reasons why we need such literacies when we discussed filter bubbles, much more can be said of the kinds of technologies that require these literacies. In other words, we need to ask questions like:

  • Who or what are we trying to sidestep in using these skills? What traps exist for users trying to find pure info on the web? What is the worst that can happen? What stories do we know of people having a terrible experience online?
  • What are some of the trackers and hackers that make the web a potentially dangerous place? Who are these bad actors and what are their interests?
  • What are some ways you already avoid these traps? What critical digital literacies do you already have?

 Twitter: An Introduction

In this unit we move from readers of social media to readers and writers of social media, specifically Twitter. As your readings for tonight suggest, Twitter has become an important — and problematic! — tool in the attention economy. My hope is that you’ll understand this better as you use it. To get started we’ll create an account:

  1. Go to Twitter.com and click the “sign up” button or load the app from your phone.
  2. Use your real name or a pseudonym and enter a valid email address.
  3. Before you accept the option to “Personalize Twitter based on where you’ve seen Twitter content on the web,” click “Learn More.”
  4. Also before you accept everything and sign up, click the advanced tab (which is purposefully hidden) and decide if you want “others” to find you by your email address or phone number. Now that you’ve decided on these privacy measures, you probably also want to skip entering your phone number on the next screen.
  5. Decide on a username. Usernames do not have to reflect your name in real life (IRL) and – above all – should be memorable. Use this username generator especially since twitter is sensitive to nonconforming names that look like bots (i.e. wrt_799). NOTE: if Twitter locks you out and asks you for you phone number, you can try this procedure with Google Voice or start over and see if you can get an account without one.
  6. Confirm your account by checking your mail and clicking “confirm now.”
  7. Once you’ve decided on a username, add it to our blogroll and link it to your Twitter page. (example: @futureofwriting)
  8. Feel free to customize your experience, but you should know that the more info you give Twitter, the more its algorithm will assume about you.

Getting Started: 3 moves

  • Follow. Once you’re in the interface, find and follow @futureofwriting, your classmates on the blogroll (especially your fellow panelists), and possibly other good sources of info we discussed in the 1st unit (Snopes, Wikipedia, Politico, etc.).
  • Customize. Upload a profile pic and banner image, and write a bio for others to see. Still: be protective of your privacy, as your default setting is not private (and switching your account to private would lock us all out).
  • Tweet. Posting to the general public is as simple as entering a message in the “What’s happening?” field, but you can also post to specific users using the “@” sign at the beginning of your message (example: “@futureofwriting Here are 3 discussion questions…”).
  • # (hashtag). You should use the course hashtag, #wrtf17 for all tweets, which will help us organize our conversation and give you points. But feel free to use other hashtags and tag users too (example tweet: “Reading about twitterbots on @NYTimes for HW. #Russia def played a role in #2016election.” Tagging another user will notify them in their “mentions” tab.

Homework for Th, 10/12

Workshop: Truthometer drafts

Today we are workshopping your drafts with help from the Writing Center, but before we get to it, our tutors will begin by giving us a sense of what the WC can do for you, where it’s located, and how to make an appointment.

The Writing Center!



Workshopping the Truthometer posts

  1. Make sure your draft is titled correctly and is easy to find on your site. It should have [DRAFT] before and/or after the title of the post (example: “[DRAFT] Did Vegas Shooter Attend Bernie Sanders Rally in 2016? [DRAFT]”)
  2. Everyone will respond to 2 drafts today.
  3. To find out who you are responding to, go to this spreadsheet. Find your name the blog URLs you will respond to in the next two columns.
  4. For each author: go to their blog, find their name and their draft, and complete this form.
  5. At the end of class, we’ll look at some of the results together.

Homework for Tuesday, 10/10

  • Post your final Truth-o-meter fact-check as a new post. That is, do not overwrite the DRAFT post; instead create a new post so that I can compare the changes. This post is due by midnight on Tuesday, 10/10 unless you go to the Writing Center. If you do that, and you email me the client report form, you may turn in your work on Thursday, 10/12 instead.


Workshop: 3 ideas for your Truthometer post

Today we are spending most of our time workshopping your ideas for the Truthometer post. Before we do that, we’ll also work on tightening up your WordPress sites. But first, after Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, a number of sources were busy circulating bad information, either out of haste, virality, or a general lack of shame. Two sources I came across yesterday tracked these fake news stories quite well:

While these don’t exactly model the kinds of move I’m asking you to make in your Truthometer post, they are a helpful reminder that there are also good journalists out there who sort through the junk on the web to try to bring us closer to the truth. And as you’ll see below it’s actually not all that difficult to make junk look (sort of) like truth.

Fake News Generator

Some of your WordPress sites need a little character, so let’s start today by having you create your own fake news headline. You’ll then use this for your About Me page in WordPress.

There are several sites where you can do this, but here are two in particular:

Use these sites to make your own fake news headline that you will convert into an image for your WordPress site. Once it’s ready, add your image to either your About Me page or use it in a widget, which I’ll show you below.

WP Cleanup

I looked at many of your sites this weekend and noticed they still need some cleaning up by doing one or more of the following. Nearly all of these can be done from the themes > customize menu in the dashboard in WP:

  • Set the home/landing page as your blog posts, which will show your most recent post at the top (not “featured content” posts — get rid of those).
  • Create a unique name for your blog and a custom banner. Making your own is pretty easy. I’ll show you how.
  • Add widgets that make all blog posts visible, including the archive, authors, display WordPress posts, and recent posts widgets.
  • Delete or revise boilerplate WP pages, posts, or content. This includes revising the About Me page, removing featured content, deleting menu items and/or pages that aren’t taking us anywhere else.

Workshop your 3 ideas for the Truthometer post

  1. Open a new document in your WRT folder in Google Drive. Name this “Feedback on Truthometer ideas” and add your name and post URL to your post at the top of the page. Be sure to grab the link from the copy tool at the top of your dash window and not the browser URL (otherwise the link from the dashboard will send users to their own WP dash — confusing, I know).
  2. Copy and paste the following bullets at the top of your document:
  • For each source this author listed, what specific information would be fact-checked? Which idea would require the most research? Which would require the least?
  • Map “the moves” that would be required for each potential choice. Which posts would require discussing previous fact-checks? How many times would this require going upstream? How much lateral reading would this post describe? How many sources? Check up on the author’s preliminary work.
  • Would writing this post help clarify expert consensus about a fact that is often debated or confusing, or would it merely confirm what we already know?
  • What media should be used in this post? Which sources should this post link to?
  • What tags could be used for this post?
  1. In a new tab or window, go to this spreadsheet and find your name. Copy the emails of the three respondents next to your name. Toggle back to your document and click the blue share button at the top right. Add these email addresses to the “share with others” field. Make sure they can edit.
  2. Respond. In a moment you should receive invitations to respond to three authors (looked in your Shared With Me folder in Drive). Follow the link to the Google Doc and then to the WP post. Ultimately you are trying to help the author decide which of these 3 ideas are the most appropriate for the Truthometer task. Put another way, you are checking up on their ideas to see which are viable. The bulleted questions, then, are meant to guide this process. Be sure to sign your feedback and clearly separate it from other respondents. Aim to respond to at least two peers in class today.

Homework for 10/5

  • Draft your Truthometer post. On Thursday we will have representatives from the Writing Center assisting us in running a workshop with these drafts. The more your have done for Thursday, the more advanced your draft will be. The more advanced your draft will be, the more advanced your final will be. Make sense?


Recent Studies Suggest…

Today we are talking about going upstream on news items that cite scholarly sources and figuring out how to read them laterally.

Filter bubble follow up

I was feeling irresponsible since last class when I claimed that Facebook could determine the amount of time you spend reading posts and factored that into their News Feed algorithm; I didn’t cite any sources and so I worried that I too was a victim of #fakenews. So I tracked down a source:

Two software engineers at Facebook wrote this piece in 2015, telling the public that the company “…discovered that if people spend significantly more time on a particular story in News Feed than the majority of other stories they look at, this is a good sign that content was relevant to them.” As a result, if you are on Facebook and a post “was on the screen for more time than other posts that were in your News Feed, [Facebook’s algorithms] infer that it was something you found interesting and [it] may start to surface more posts like that higher up in your News Feed in the future.” So again, you do not have to like, comment, share, or otherwise engage with the news item in order for it to be factored into your future News Feed results.

Relatedly, Wired ran a story on Tuesday about Facebook’s history of control with its algorithm when the stakes involved jeopardizing its $470+ billion market value. Hopefully we will talk more about algorithms in the upcoming second unit.

According to a Recent Study…

For your 5th blog post I asked you to go upstream on a news report that cites a recent study. There were a number of news stories to choose from in the headlines yesterday, including:

These were just a few. Did anyone choose these news sources or follow up on a similar study?

  • How did your searches go? Did anyone find an impact factor? Did you use Google Scholar?
  • Did you “accurately summarize the state of research and the consensus of experts in a given area, taking into account majority and significant minority views” as Caulfield suggests?  How hard was this, being an outsider? What does Caulfield say about this? Hint:

Often you are not in a position to critically read original scholarly research because it take many years to develop the knowledge and literacies required to become an expert. This expertise can be observed if you try to pick up a journal from any given field. What makes these journals really credible, however, is the process of peer review. What is peer-review? The library at NC State explains it quite succinctly in this YT video:

Yet, for all of the credibility peer-reviewed journals muster, sometimes these journals are not even immune to the effects of the web. Consider this article, “The Case for Colonialism,” which was published in Third World Quarterly last month.

Do some quick Google searching to find out about how this was received by the wider academic community, and what other sources say about this journal and the author. Are they the same? Although this is a rare case, why is it important to read laterally? What else might we find when we read laterally?

Homework for Tuesday, 10/3

  • Browse the “Fieldguide” section of Caulfield (look in the Table of Contents from the main page) and skim sections that interest you.
  • In your 6th WordPress post, briefly propose 3 different possible claims to fact-check for your final Truth-o-meter post. This is the post that is worth 50% of your unit grade — re-read the assignment page for details and look at my example. Use a numbered list format in WordPress to separate these 3 claims and write a paragraph (¶) for each that makes a case for why it would be a good choice for a longer, ~1,000-word post. You might consider re-reading the first row of the rubric, as well as conduct some preliminary fact-checking to find out if your claim will be a good choice for this assignment. In other words, this is your chance to do the preliminary research that will help you be successful. We’ll share these with each other in class on Tuesday. Does everyone feel like they have good places to look for potential claims?

More Bubbles

Blue feed, red feed

For homework you blogged about the conservative, liberal, and mainstream filter bubbles your groups described on Thursday. You were asked questions about how these feeds shared or isolated certain stories, provided sources and/or links, or were credible after reading laterally. Two questions:

  • What did you write about? What surprised you?
  • What claims did you encounter that are just begging to be checked?
  • If there’s time, let’s compare filter bubbles for coverage of the national anthem during NFL games that were played on Sunday.

Filter bubbles, continued

I asked you to watch this TED Talk by Eli Pariser for today on filter bubbles, so let’s begin by making this 2011 talk more relevant. In your groups, take 10-15 minutes to read the Pariser quotation and complete the related task. Be ready to share your findings with the class and explain how they demo the aspect of filter bubbles Pariser is discussing in your assigned quotation.

Group 1

“Even if you’re logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at — everything from what kind of computer you’re on to what kind of browser you’re using to where you’re located — that it uses to personally tailor your query results. Think about it for a second: there is no standard Google anymore.”

Task: Do a search for “Google Analytics” and see what this tool can do. What some of the features of Analytics that any web designer can use to track or influence readers?

Image result for Google Analytics

Group 2

“There are a whole host of companies that are doing this kind of personalization. Yahoo News, the biggest news site on the Internet, is now personalized — different people get different things. Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times — all flirting with personalization in various ways. And this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

Task: Which of your online accounts have personalization settings? Which of these can you turn off? Do some poking around the web to see if you can find advice on this and be ready to share some tips with us.

Image result for settings "google news"

Group 3

“…what’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is that you don’t decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out.

Task: Visit the site Blue Feed, Red Feed, play around with the filter bubbles, and read the methodology. Be ready to explain it to the class. 

Image result for blue feed red feed

Group 4

“What we’re seeing is more of a passing of the torch from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones. And the thing is that the algorithms don’t yet have the kind of embedded ethics that the editors did. So if algorithms are going to curate the world for us, if they’re going to decide what we get to see and what we don’t get to see, then we need to make sure that they’re not just keyed to relevance. We need to make sure that they also show us things that are uncomfortable or challenging or important ”

Task: What are some of the factors that go into Facebook’s algorithms? List them and tell us which of these give users some control. 

Image result for starred friends settings facebook

Homework for Thursday, 9/28

  1. Read Caulfield’s chapters on using scholarly sources to read laterally, including:
  1. Use your 5th WordPress post to go upstream on a news report that cites a recent study. (For some of you who have already blogged about a recent study, feel free to pick up where you left off.) If you’re stuck, type “recent study” into Google and click the “News” tab at the top. Like so:

Once you find a news story that cites a study or piece of scholarship, go upstream to find that original study. [Note: You may have to log in to Rowan’s library to access some of these.]

Even if you cannot find the actual study, use the strategies from the chapters above to check the credibility of the journal and the expertise of the author(s). If you get stuck on one strategy, discuss it in your post, but move to another. Not all journals will have an impact factor and not all authors can be easily found in Google Scholar, but you should seek both. Ultimately your goal is to use these search strategies to “accurately summarize the state of research and the consensus of experts in a given area, taking into account majority and significant minority views.”

Filter bubbles

Today we are going to review the rubric I created from our class discussions on Tuesday and test it through a peer review exercise. Then we’re going to talk about the importance of reading laterally through an activity on filter bubbles.

Rubric for Fact-checking

On Tuesday both sections worked to create a list of expectations for the fact-check blog posts; I thought we did a nice job and produced a list that overlapped between the 2 sections. Yesterday I organized these lists into a rubric:

Take a look at this rubric and notice how I used the expectations we brainstormed to convert them into an evaluation tool. In order to test the effectiveness of this tool, I want you to evaluate a post by doing the following:

  1. Choose a post that you would like evaluated and quickly re-read it.
  2. Evaluate your blog using the rubric. Is this post mostly ?, ?, or ??
  3. Once you’ve done that, exchange posts with a nearby partner and have them evaluate the same post. Do they see it as mostly?, ?, or ?? The goal here to check your self-evaluation with someone else’s. As an evaluator, please imagine that you are me and really scrutinize the post. In other words, be a tough grader and be ready to justify your selections.
  4. Do the scores match? How can certain aspects be improved? Do you know what you need to do?

Filter Bubbles: Or, the Importance of Reading Laterally

After Trump was elected last November, Saturday Night Live ran this satirical ad of a planned community called “The Bubble”:

The ad poked fun of the privileged position that hipsters, progressives, or white millennials can choose to close themselves off from a version of America that threatens their worldview (they jokingly call it “Brooklyn”). It’s a funny skit because it plays of off some of the fundamental trouble with a networked view of reality.  Hence, the importance of what Caulfield calls “reading laterally.” For your homework today, you read laterally by looking at what others have said about BreitbartOccupy Democrats, or FoxNews. From this you were supposed to answer a few questions:

  • What did you discover from other sources? Did you trust this information you read?
  • What could you find about each of these sources in terms of the site’s process, expertise, and aim?
  • What makes these three sources –BreitbartOccupy Democrats, or FoxNews – a potential threat to democracy?

Activity: Bubble Briefing

Click your group’s link below and use the Google Doc to follow your bubble of sources. Use these sources to compose a briefing on the top stories of the day. Each group should make a list of the Top 3-5 stories (write only a few sentences for that summarize each) and include a link to one representative article.

ConservativeTownhallDrudge Report, The Geller ReportBreitbart, and The Blaze

LiberalThe Raw StoryOccupy DemocratsHuffington Post, The Intercept, and AlterNet 

Mainstream: NY Times, ABC News, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Politico 

Homework for Tuesday, 9/26

  1. Watch this TED Talk by Eli Pariser on filter bubbles.
  2. Read the briefings above and a few of the representative articles each group linked to. As you read, compare them. Create a new (4th) post in WordPress wherein you discuss some or all of the following questions:
  • What headlines and stories cut across the three bubbles? What stories seem unique to those bubbles?
  • Do particular keywords keep coming up across or within each bubble?
  • How do they differ? Do they draw from different sources—interviews, studies, unnamed sources, etc.? How do they link to other sources or stories?
  • Thinking back to how we read laterally, how would you judge these sources on their process, expertise, and aims? What standards of credibility or accuracy seem to exist in each bubble? How do you know?
  • Are there any claims or supposed facts in these stories that are just begging for a more detailed fact-check? Which ones and why? How might you do about it?

Creating a blog rubric

I’ve read everyone’s blog as of 10 p.m. last night and so I want to start with some pointers on customizing your sites. From there we’ll look more specifically at the posting requirements so we can get a sense of the extent of how you are (or are not) meeting expectations. The goal is to clarify as much as possible what will be necessary to do well on the final post in this unit. So let’s start with some pointers on customizing your front page, considering:

  • themes
  • titles of sites
  • banners
  • removing static home pages and features posts
  • getting rid of template text

I. “Excellent” posts

You have two grades in this 1st unit: several short homework blog posts (worth 50%) and a longer one at the end called Truth-O-Meter (also worth 50%). I asked you to be ready to make a case for what excellent posts look like, having at least one example in mind. Although the final post will be greater in scope (that is, longer and more detailed) the basic requirements are the same for the homework posts as the final one.  Again, excellence is defined by being outstanding – by going above and beyond expectations. So one way we might check our criteria for excellence is by reviewing the assignment’s expectations. Where and how have they been defined? Here are some places we might look:

  • the assignment itself
  • daily plans
  • textbook
  • discussions in class
  • examples

Take moment to look back at these places and generate a list of ideas for criteria. If you were evaluating yourself or your peers, what are the things the blog post would have to accomplish or communicate? Once you have a list, let’s more specifically articulate this criteria in this Google Doc.

II. Rubric design

Now that we’ve established expectations, let’s better define what distinguishes truly excellent posts from those that are average or below and translate those to readable scheme. One way we can do that is through a grid, so let’s use this Google Doc to begin drafting one.

III. Testing the rubric on an example 

Now that we’ve clarified expectations and designed a way to read them, let’s test it. I pulled a post from each of the classes and put them on my own site to help us be objective. Let’s take a look at one and talk in class about how well the example might do based on our rubric design:


As you might have noticed by now, the helpful thing about designing and engaging with rubrics, as well as looking at other examples,  is that it clarifies what you know and what you need to know (or what you need to know better). Based on this activity, what are some things you think you should know how to do (better)? Let’s take some of the remainder of our time to talk about them, and plan to continue this discussion on Thursday.

Homework for Thursday, 9/21

  1. Read Caulfield on his 3rd strategy for fact-checking: Reading Laterally, including WHAT “READING LATERALLY” MEANS and EVALUATING A WEBSITE OR PUBLICATION’S AUTHORITY.
  2. Fact-check #3: fact-check by reading laterally, by “looking at what other sites and resources say about [a] source.” You are going to  read laterally by fact-checking the credibility of one of the following sites: Breitbart, Occupy Democrats, or FoxNews. What do people say about them? You might start with Wikipedia. And as you look at what other sites or resources say about these sites, use the their criteria (which Caulfield outlines in Chapter 17) – process, expertise, and aim – to guide your observations. What do other sources say, for example, about Breitbart’s research or how they correct mistakes? What do other sources say about the kinds of writers Occupy Democrats use for their stories? Are they experts? Do they interview experts? What incentive does Fox News have to get things right in their broadcasts? Who do they cater to? Feel free to look at your chosen site, but what you’re really doing is investigating and assessing their trustworthiness.


Going upstream on viral content

Today affords us a chance to catch up individually in the lab. By now you should have:

  • created and designed your own WordPress site,
  • added your site’s unique URL to our spreadsheet, and
  • have written, formatted, and uploaded one post from your first fact-check.

Remember this unit is graded on the quality of 8-10 posts, as well as one final, longer fact-check at the end of the unit. It’s important not to fall behind.

I. Fact-checking strategies. Before we begin to work individually, let’s quickly review the 2 fact-checking strategies you’ve read so far in Caulfield’s book:

  1. Draw from previous work, including Wikipedia (which stresses a neutral point of view, or NPOV).
  2. Go upstream, to use web-based searching strategies to locate original sources of information and evaluate them.

What do these search strategies specifically entail? How did you make use of them in your first post? Start thinking, too, about the difference between outstanding posts and post that meet minimum requirements. We can talk more about this on Tuesday.

II. Practice going upstream.  Draw from your reading, especially Chapter 11, to investigate a piece of viral content. You can find such viral content on your own feeds, but I highly recommend using Buzzsumo, a search engine that tracks and ranks viral content based on the number of shares from social media.

Try to find a source that isn’t very reliable and go upstream. Hopefully these strategies include:

  • executing advanced search commands (“–” and “site:”)
  • utilizing the highlight/right-click search feature
  • scanning search results for URLs – not titles

As you craft your post, consider discussing other aspects of this section of the book, including issues with sponsored content and syndication.  You might also consider discussing other content you see on the page, including comments. Aim to post something that’s 300-500 words and includes embedded content, links, and multimedia. You want to provide a context for the fact, but then present the narrative of how you went upstream to locate information closer to the original source.

Homework for Tuesday, 9/19:

  1. Finish the piece you started in class today and post it.
  2. Look at the spreadsheet of WordPress links for both classes and find a few excellent examples. Be ready to discuss these on Tuesday.
  3. Read Caulfield Ch 12-15. This is the second half of his section about going upstream where discusses how do this with images. Try the activities in Chapter 15.