What’s an excellent fact-check?

You have two grades in this unit: 5 fact-checking blog posts (worth 50%) and a more developed one at the end called Truth-O-Meter (also worth 50%). Although the final post will be greater in scope (that is, 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. To help us better define this, I want to start with some whole-class critiques.

I think this is helpful because it gives us something concrete to discuss and negotiate. 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.


For homework I asked you to be ready to make a case for what excellent posts look like, having at least one example in mind. But let’s start with some specific examples and then move towards voluntary critique.

Criteria for “excellent” posts

We assess and evaluate using criteria, the plural form of criterion, which is defined as

One way we might remind ourselves of criteria is by reviewing the assignment’s expectations and gesture toward documenting them in an organized way. Where and how have they been defined? By which attributes or characteristics are your posts being judged by and how do you know this? *

Take moment to look back at these places and generate a list of ideas for criteria with a partner. In other words ask yourself: 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 these criteria in this Google Doc.

Organizing our criteria

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 into a readable scheme. One way we can do that is with a grid, so let’s use this Google Doc to begin drafting one.

Testing our criteria on more examples

Now that we’ve clarified expectations and designed a way to read them, let’s test it. I pulled two posts from a previous semester 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 grid:


As you might have noticed by now, the helpful thing about designing and engaging with criteria — 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 time to talk about them, work on them if there’s time in class, and plan to continue our discussion on Monday with a finalized grid — usually called a rubric — in hand.

Homework for Monday, 2/5

[Note: it might be a really good idea to re-read/study Chapters 16-17 of Caulfield on reading laterally before doing this.]

WordPress post #3: Read laterally, by “looking at what other sites and resources say about [a] source.” To practice this, check the credibility of one of the following sites:

What do people say about them? You might start with Wikipedia to find out. And as you look at what other sites or resources say about these sites, use 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.



*Here are some places we might look:

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

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,
  • added an About Me page and included an image, and
  • have written, formatted, and uploaded one post from your first fact-check.

Remember this unit is graded on the quality of 5 posts, as well as one final, longer fact-check at the end of the unit. It’s important not to fall behind.

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. Drawing from previous work, including Wikipedia (which stresses a neutral point of view, or NPOV).
  2. Going upstream to use web-based searching strategies to locate original sources of information and evaluate them.
  • Why are these strategies necessary or helpful?
  • What is “reporting on reporting”? What is “sponsored content”? What is “syndication”? What is “viral content”?
  • 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 posts that meet minimum requirements. We can talk more about this on Wednesday.

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 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 ~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 Wednesday, 1/31

  1. Finish the piece you started in class today — your 2nd of 5 posts in this unit — and publish it before class.
  2. The blogroll on the right sidebar lists the WordPress sites of your classmates. Click on them and find a few excellent examples. Be ready to discuss these in class on Wednesday.
  3. Read Caulfield Ch 12-18.

Fact-checking sites

Today we are talking about fact-checking by looking at sites that regularly investigate claims, the first of four moves discussed in Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. We will specifically discuss how this works by looking at fake news about Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Florida last September, and by looking at some of the examples you came up with for your homework. You’ll then begin the process of translating that example into a WordPress post. By the end of class, you should know how to create a post so that you can complete the homework for Monday.

I. Check your emotions.

Before we get too far into this unit, it’s important that we discuss this piece of advice from Mike Caulfield in Chapter 3:

“When you feel strong emotion — happiness, anger, pride, vindication — and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, STOP. Above all, it’s these things that you must fact-check.”

What does Caulfield mean by this? How does it work in practice?

  1. II. Fake news about Hurricane Irma.

Let’s start with some recent examples. Because my dad and father-in-law both live in Florida year-round, I was paying close attention to the news surrounding Hurricane Irma last fall. Luckily both of them were fine, but as I read the news and jumped on my social media feeds, I saw many examples of fake news.

As part of a fact-check post about fake news spreading during Hurricane Irma, ProPublica interviewed journalist Jane Lytvynenko about various phony stories, images, and other media that have appeared in our feeds. As she notes, even though fake news circulates differently with weather events, “what unites misinformation around weather and politics is emotion.” Even government officials are susceptible. Here’s the president’s director of social media sharing a now-deleted tweet from a random member of the public who shared it with him:

And a response by the Miami Airport:

Supposedly, the actual video that was shared was from Mexico City’s airport in August 2017:

Perhaps one of the more ridiculous stories that circulated was this sarcastic event on Facebook. The event’s popularity prompted several groups, including Sheriffs in Pasco County, to create and post this image:

Interestingly, through a reverse Google Image search (something you’ll learn more about next week and in Chapter 13), you can see that the image itself isn’t quite right. It’s a doctored version of a widely-shared image that explains how hurricanes work. This is sometimes attributed to the National Weather Service, though it wasn’t easy to track down:

More research can and should clear this up, but in the meantime, we can see how difficult it is to slow down and establish facts, especially in times of spectacular crisis. This is why fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact can be so useful. Here are some examples of how these sites checked facts during the two recent hurricanes:

  • Climate Feedback fact-checked The Atlantic‘s article on how climate change affected Hurricane Harvey.
  • Aforementioned journalist Jane Lytvynenko posted a running list of misinformation on Irma on Buzzfeed.
  • A lengthy post from Politifact contextualized Rush Limbaugh’s controversial comments on Irma.
  • Snopes fact-checked the reoccurring myth that you should store your valuables in a dishwasher during floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. And another on sharks showing up in the hurricane.

However, Caulfield’s advice to search fact-checking sites like Politifact and Snopes and collaborative pages on Wikipedia comes with some warnings, What are they?

And how do we use the site-search function and other advanced commands in Google searches? Why are these useful?

Finally, note that I have added a list of several reputable fact-checking sites to our Unit 1 menu above.

III. Examples from your own fact-checking brainstorm. 

For homework today you were asked to produce and assess a list of facts worth checking based on our book’s definition. Let’s look at what you came up with. As we talk through these examples, we want to ask:

  • Where, when, and how did you find these claims?
  • How would you fact-check them? Where would you go? Why? How?
  • Is there a fact on this list that suggests you could write a fact-check in 500-word blog post?
  • What images, videos, sounds, links, and embedded content could you include as you turn this into a blog post?

IV. Posting in WordPress.

When we left off on Monday, you were writing an About page. I want you to continue that in class today, but before you do I want to show you two features of WordPress that help readers navigate your site as well as introduce you to some page and post features.

Appearance settings:

  • menus
  • widgets 

Page and post settings:

  • titles
  • links
  • embedded content
  • tags and categories
  • formatting

Now that you know some of these features work on customizing your site, adding an About page, and posting your first fact-check.

HW for Monday, 1/29

  1. Read Caulfield, Chapters 7-11
  2. Post your first fact-check before class. Your post should:
  • be titled concisely and accurately (i.e. “Fact-check #1: Sharks in Hurricane Irma?”)
  • include 2-3 links to sites you refer to in your discussion
  • embed at least one image, tweet, video, sound clip, or some other non-textual feature.
  • make use of some of the content organizing features, like tags and categories
  • make use of some of the formatting features: bullets, headings, quotations, etc.

Facts & “Post-Truth”

I. Attendance on Starfish.

II. What is a fact and why does it matter?

  • Take this 5-minute quiz on “How DigiPo Defines a Fact.
  • Pull up your other reading for today: William Davies’s essay, “The Age of Post-Truth Politics.” According to Davies, there is a “crisis of facts” in Western democracies. What does he mean by this? Point to some moments in the reading.
  • What role has technology played in the shift from a “society of facts to a society of data,” as he puts it? How is it “possible to live in a world of data but no facts”?
  • Davies’s essay was published in the Opinion section of the NYT. Still, are there any facts presented in his essay, as Caulfield defined them? What are they?

III. Finding facts to check

In some ways, the focus of this entire first unit is knowing when you should double-check the information you encounter on the web. We’ll discuss different contexts for these encounters, looking at moments when claims and facts tend to blur and understanding the ways virality, emotion, and distractions interfere with our ability to assess information clearly and quickly on the web. That said, let’s brainstorm some places where or situations when we should take a closer look at the information we receive. For example, finding hashtags on controversial topics on social media sites like Twitter can lead to a host of so-called facts worth checking. This one might be a good candidate, for example:


IV. WordPress set up, continued

Today we will spend some time in class continuing to set up your WordPress site.

  1. Review our Unit 1 assignment and look at some student sites from last semester: [Actual Facts] [amandaswrt17] [domenicawrt]
  2. Find your URL, and copy and paste it next to your name in this spreadsheet. Note: your URL does not start with wordpress.com; it starts with your blog name (i.e. superstar_sofia.wordpress.com). Adding your URL to the spreadsheet allows me, and others in the class, to find your blog easily.
  3. Choose a theme and begin to play around with customizations and headers. Make a unique header.
  4. Make an About page that tells us a little about yourself. Include a professional-rated image. Let’s also talk about the difference between pages and posts.

Homework for Wednesday, 1/24

  • Read Caulfield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers: Chapters 1-6
  • In a Google Doc that is saved in your WRT student folder, list 4-5 potential facts worth checking. Note the source and provide the link. Remember that DigiPo defines a fact, as “something that is generally not disputed by people in a position to know who can be relied on to accurately tell the truth.” Given this definition, which facts on your list might be easier to check than others? What would you have to know or do in order to go about checking this fact?


Welcome to Sections 3 and 4 of Writing, Research, & Technology (WRT for short)! I’m Jason and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better this semester. Today we are getting to know each other, reviewing the syllabus, and getting acquainted with two of the spaces we will be using this semester (and which some of you are already familiar). As you can see, I use the daily plan blog on this course site to share my lesson plans with you. These also serve as a space for documenting our work and clarifying homework assignments. They are organized by categories and tags and searchable. OK, so here’s the plan for today:

Course plan and trajectory

After briefly introducing myself, I’ll go over some of the course site with you and discuss the first unit.

Take a quiz at Factitious

  • How did you do on the Factitious quiz?
  • What information did you have to consider as you decided if a news item was true or not? Where did this knowledge come from?
  • What argument does this app make for how you might determine fake news?

Make your own fake headline

Use Breakingnews247 or Breakyourownnews to write a fake news story about yourself to share on social media. Be creative but also try to twist or exaggerate something true about yourself so that people might comment on it on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. Save these images to your desktop. If you’re feeling brave, share it on social media and see what your followers say.

Google Drive set up

We will be using Google Drive to share files and folders throughout this semester. Here’s how to use it.

  1. Go to http://drive.google.com/a/rowan.edu and log in with your usual Rowan credentials.
  2. Go to the “Shared With Me” tab on the left.
  3. Find your WRT student folder. It should include your last name, first name followed by “WRT” (i.e. “Luther, Jason [WRT]”). Click on it. This is the folder you will use to share work with me that is not on a public site; it saves us the trouble of using Blackboard and sending files via email.
  4. Drag your fake news story to this folder.


In the first unit, you will compose several multimedia blog posts in WordPress. Then, in the last unit, you’ll use WordPress to continue building a collaborate website originally started by my Fall 2017 classes, called The Future of Writing (Note: if you took Intro to Writing Arts with me in the fall, this is your chance to improve your skills with a platform that has built more than 20% of all websites.)

In class, I’ll show you how to build your own site. However, one of the consistently great resources you can use this semester is Lynda.com, a high-quality, video-based tutorial site that Rowan pays a hefty fee to subscribe to. The fact that you can have a free account to Lynda is a real perk of being a college student here. Here’s how to use it:

  1. First, make an account at Lynda.com using your Rowan credentials.
  2. Once you’re in, you can search for different videos, courses, and other content. I’ll show you this today. If you are new to WordPress, or want a refresher, I suggest using the “WordPress.com Essential Training” course.

Homework for Monday, 1/22