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Group Project - Researching and Critiquing Internet Resources

The goals of this assignment are to help you:
  • become knowledgeable about doing research on the Internet
  • differentiate between credible Internet information and "junk"
  • develop your critical thinking skills and back up your conclusions with evidence.
  • build teamwork skills to produce a product - a web page document.
  • create clear concise text (using the necessary editing and layout skills).
  • create a user-friendly * Web page based on your critique, with clear text, logical format, appropriate links.
* If your group does not choose to publish the critique on the Web, each group member must turn in a written copy of the report (even though there is one report for the group), including information about each member's contribution to the project. You must also include the Web address of the site each member critiqued.

You will be graded on:

  • participation (doing your part of the analysis, responding to drafts of Web project, attending virtual and/or real time meetings on the project). It is possible for a final product to get one grade and a participant to get another, if there is sufficient evidence to show that someone did not do his or her fair share or turned in less than minimally acceptable work. See peer evaluation form you will fill out at the end of the semester. Ideally, team dynamics should help each person do his or her best by drawing on the individual strengths of the members.
  • quality of analysis with supporting evidence
  • quality of written Web document - ease of comprehension and navigation; clear, concise language; correct spelling and grammar; appropriate hyperlinks to Web material you critique. (I am not expecting fancy JAVA scripted or graphics-laden web pages. It should be readable and thorough in content, and not obscured by too many bells and whistles. I prefer you not use frames.) [If your group does not publish the critique on the Web, your document must, of course, follow the guidelines for a well written document.]
It is important to know the difference between reliable and unreliable information transmitted by all means of information sharing. Because anyone, in theory, can publish on the Web, it is imperative for users of the Web to develop a critical eye to evaluate the credibility of Internet information. To help you become familiar with Internet information in your major, you will (in your designated groups) explore some Internet sites that relate o your major and write a collaborative report to be posted as a Web Page.

Your group can select one extensive Internet site, with each of you analyzing particular hypertext links, or each of you could pick a different site, as long as it is in your major. Make general observations in your report about your findings on the one, extensive site, or the various sites, and then narrow down to analyzing your particular sites. If the site you choose has a significant amount of information, you can pick representative samplings of information to deal with in detail and give a general overview of what is covered. You will analyze the information and graphics on the Web sites, write a collaborative report on your findings and publish it on the Web. At the end of your Web page, list everyone in the group and their e-mail addresses, what sites (including the full title of the site and the URL address) he or she researched. Link to the individual web pages of the group members. In your FINAL PORTFOLIO you will include an individual report outlining in detail your input to the project, a brief summary of the site you analyzed, the address of the site you analyzed, and the group members names and their site addresses. If your Group Internet Project is published on the Web there is no need to turn in a print copy of the project. (Be sure you give me the Web address of your report when you publish it and also include it in your individual report in your Portfolio.) At the end of the semester you will evaluate each other's contributions to the project .

One member of the group could have the Web project residing on his or her Web space, with links to the other group members' pages. Or each of you could have a copy residing in your Web page (the safest policy). This will help facilitate viewing the projects for the oral presentations and viewing of the Web projects.

 Attention: Provide links to the original Internet material you are analyzing. If you want to use their logo or copy any material onto your page (other than a link) you must first get permission from the originator of that material. If you want to quote a portion of the original site's text, you must be sure your give credit to the original source. See copyright section of my Web page.

Questions and points to address when writing your report

When you analyze the sites and form opinions, backup your opinions with supporting evidence to support your points. Your report should not be in Q & A format. You have flexibility in format and style, as long as your report is clear, concise, and well organized.

Give the URL (http:// address) of the site, and a brief overview of its content.
 Deconstruct the site's web address: The Web site address is called a "URL". A URL (Uniform Resource     Locator) is an Internet address that generally begins with the "http://" symbol. URL addresses can be recognized by the "Domain Name." Domain Names are divided into categories such as:.
.edu - for education sites
.gov - for government sites
.org - for organization sites
.com - for commercial sites
.net - for network infrastructures
  • Some URLs end in the ".htm" or ".html" suffix, which is part of the Unix code which allows the computer to read the information in hypertext form.
  • What do the different parts of a URL, divided by "/" symbols mean? URL addresses are hierarchical. For example, the address: "" broken down into its components is (from the lowest to highest): the file "University Policy #60" - Responsible Use of Computing ("60.html"), is linked in a web page called "University Administration Policies" ("administrative"). The "University Administration Policies" page is linked on a web page called the "Faculty/Staff Information" ("facstaff"), which a link on MasonLink the GMU home page, which address is ""
  • Is the web site a government site? Is it an organization site? Is it an education site? How do you tell if a Web site is a personal Web site? What special interests and biases might be inherent in the various types of sites?
  • What are the major categories of information covered on the site/sites?
  • Who are the audiences for these sites? What clues define the audiences? Provide evidence such as tone, voice, language (accessible to the general public or technical?) , assumed knowledge.
  • What are the hypertext links on that "page"? How do the various links relate to the main theme? Are the links consistent with the main theme, or does the site have personal links? Is it a hodgepodge of various personal interests of an individual?
  • What kinds of graphics are on the sites? Describe them in detail. How do they relate to the topics? Are the graphics designed to grab your attention? Do they make the site easier to use, or help explain concepts? Do the graphics support text information or do they stand alone? Do they overuse graphics to the point of distraction? Who are the various audiences for these graphics? What are your clues?
  • What clues do you have about the credibility of the sites and information? You may not be familiar with the institutions, organizations, or individuals who sponsor or who contributed information to the sites (and this is also true with traditional text sources), but can you also find text material by these authors or institutions in the library? From what institutions or organizations do the sites originate? Any group can give itself an official sounding name or logo. What beyond surface credibility gives you clues about the reliability of the site and its information? Is the sponsoring organization involved in research and/or does it provide supporting documentation to back up its points? Does the site have built in bias? For example is the Web page an advertisement for a product or service? Does it have a particular political or social agenda? Having an agenda or selling a product on the Web is not necessarily "bad," but is the sponsor "sneaky" about its alliances or "up front"?
  • Make some general observations about what you learned about the subject you chose to investigate from exploring these sites. What did you learn about your discipline through exploring the Internet sources? What general observations can you make about the usefulness and value of the information you found on the Internet (while aware of the fact that you have not covered all possible sites - only a sampling) in your chosen field of study? What did you learn about looking at information, web-based and others, with a critical eye? At the end of your group report, list the URL address of each site and the name of group member who researched it.
Some types of Web sites:
  • Personal Home Pages - Web sites which are maintained by individuals.  They are often informal.  Individuals can post their resumes, link to favorite sites, and showcase their interests and ideas.  Some personal Web sites also serve as professional sites.  For example, many professors publish their syllabi and other course material on their own Web pages.
  • Special interest sites - maintained by non-profit organizations or activists dealing with special issues, such as environmental concerns, legalization of marijuana, etc.  They can be relatively mainstream or radical in interests and vary widely in credibility of information.
  • Information sites - which include research, reference sources, and fact sheets. Many institutions provide such services to the public. The credibility of the institution providing the facts gives clues as to the reliability of the information.  Is the material documented?
  • News and journalistic sites - which include national, international news, online newspapers, magazines. Anyone can publish his or her own "news," on the Web.  As in print - just because it is published does not necessarily mean it is true. If a periodical article has an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) it will probably have more authority. Web serials that do not have ISSN numbers are probably created by entrepreneurs and less authority than other publications.
  • Commercial sites - Although many legitimate businesses have Web sites; some are not legitimate. Companies are in the business of making money and acquiring and keeping customers.  They are naturally biased in favor of their own products, so watch out for inflated claims for performance and quality.  Companies will not showcase their competitors' products. If you are, for example, comparing products, get impartial reviews, not company information. Many entrepreneurs use "rented" Web space to create their own Web sites to sell their services or products - buyer beware!  Can you track the reputation of the company?
No category of Web site is "better" than another. They serve different purposes. There are reliable and unreliable Web sites in all categories of Web sites. A personal Web site, which expresses the interests and biases of its author, is a legitimate use of a Web site, as long as the Web site owner is upfront about his or her identity.  Many such sites have useful information. Be wary of sites which publish information and express views without letting you know who the original source is. Web sites can masquerade as one type but may really have a hidden agenda. Any group can give itself an official sounding name or logo. Keep yourself attuned to clues to help you recognize the true nature and intent of sites, and the reliability of the information.

It gets confusing when dealing with personal Web pages. Independent providers, such as AOL, are not responsible for the content of individual's Web pages, anymore than a university is responsible for the Web pages of students (Though, in extreme cases, you can be cut off if your content does not fit certain standards). If a person named "Doe" had a Web page on America Online, the address might be  Even though the site is commercial (AOL), Mr./Ms. Doe bought Web space for a personal Web page.  Some universities provide Web space to faculty and students.  So personal Web pages can reside on a server with an ".edu" extension.

See more Guidelines for Critiquing Web Sites:

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