Assignment Description

Cleaning up our information environment

Bad information about all kinds of topics is everywhere, and many common searches on the web return disinformation. We can think of this situation in terms of the “information environment.” Bad or poor quality information is “information pollution” that degrades the information environment we all share. We don’t have to accept this situation as inevitable. We can, as students and scholars, make the information environment better. In this assignment, we will act as information environmentalists, cleaning up the pollution we find in our information environment.

For the Info-Environmentalism assignment you will work in a group of 3 or 4 to identify a claim about a topic of your choice for which the current top Google results are either flawed or incomplete. Student in my sections of Tackling a Wicked Problem started this project in Fall 2019 by investigating claims concerning climate change. You can view their work here: They chose claims related to climate change to investigate. You should be sure to read some of their articles so you can understand the kind of work I’m expecting you to do.

The choice of claim that you are going to investigate is a really important one because you will be working on this assignment for the next 4-5 weeks (at least). You should choose something that you are actually interested in investigating.

How do you choose a claim? This is going to require you to do some research. I have included a list of possibilities on this web site that you might choose from. Or you might have recently heard or read a claim online that made you really mad or really happy and maybe you decide that’s the claim you want to investigate. You will need to work with your group to come to a decision together about the claim that you investigate.

You will write up the claim you choose and investigate it (see the Format Instructions page of this web site). If you wish, you can choose to submit your claim and the results of your investigation for permanent inclusion on our class info-environmentalism site (this site). This will result in your answer coming up in Google responses to the question you chose (permanent submission to the site is optional, not mandatory, and acceptance may be dependent on quality).

Your work will be assessed on the following criteria. These criteria are all derived from the goal of the assignment: to produce useful, accurate information that people can understand and feel they can trust.

  • Choice of claim: Did you choose a claim about which there is currently disinformation, misinformation, or a lack of information? Your completed assignment should show that the claim is either matter of some disagreement or an issue on which there is no significant disagreement, but about which there is significant misinformation on the web.
  • Quality of explanation: In determining the level of truth in the claim, do you make a logical argument? Do you write with clarity?
  • Quality of Sourcing: Do you source your support for the answer through the appropriate use of hyperlinks? Are your sources credible, and do they tap into relevant expertise in the field? For statistical questions do you note both the source of the statistics and any relevant information about how they were collected and by whom?
  • Breadth of sourcing: Do you use a variety of sources, old and new, to show the points of scholarly consensus and disagreement? For statistical questions, do you provide multiple sources if required and available?
  • Style: Does your answer project authority through use of proper grammar, clear writing, and freedom from spelling errors? Where possible, do you make use of properly cited images, videos, and other media? Do you maintain a neutral, unemotional tone throughout?

Your annotated bibliography will be marked complete when the following criteria are met:

  • There are at least 10 sources.
  • All of the sources have citations to other work).
  • None of the sources is a blog post from someone without expertise related to the topic of the claim.
  • At least 5 of the sources are from the last 2 years.
  • At least 2 of the sources from peer reviewed journals.
  • At least 1 of the sources is a book.
  • For each source, you have written at least 2 paragraphs:
    • One paragraph explains what the source says.
    • One paragraph explains how you will use the source in your article. For example, is this a source that makes a false claim related to your question and so you will be using it to show that your question is a matter of disagreement? Or is this a web-based source that provides misinformation related to your questions? Or is this a source that you will summarize in order to provide evidence for the answer to your question? Or is this a source that gives some background information related to your question? There are other ways that you might be using a particular source so you must have a paragraph explaining that.

Your article will be marked complete when:

  1. you have a properly formatted article with the sections required by the assignment, 
  2. you have properly cited and used at least 10 sources in your article, 
  3. you have come to a clear evaluation of the claim that you chose, 
  4. the evaluation of the claim makes sense given the rest of the article, and
  5. the article reads as though it was written by one person (that is, all of the sections make sense together).

This assignment was adapted from (and originally a part of) Mike Caulfield’s Digital Polarization Project.