Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Open Letter to the Deutsch 1 Class

Hello to the students and teacher(s) of Deutsch 1.

This is the author of Around the Wherever. I recently noticed that I was getting traffic from your school. I'm curious so I looked up your Deutsch 1 website and found that my blog was linked as a source for your class. It is unfortunate that my blog's name is misspelled, but many people seem to get that wrong.

I see that students must write a 10 sentence paragraph about the German educational system, using this blog entry of mine as a resource. Part of me is pleased but another part of me is concerned.

Sure, it's nice to have one's writing actually used for something. However, the academic in me is worried. I know that this is just a short piece in which the students must write something about the educational system in Germany. However, I am concerned because sometimes people use reference sources that are not appropriate for academic work. Just because Jim Bob (or, in this case, Around the Wherever) put something on the internet, it doesn't mean that it's valid or reliable information.

I urge students and their teachers to learn about evaluating reference sources, especially web sites, before using them in academic work. Universities and libraries have some great information on how to determine if a source is appropriate for academic work. For example, the University of California - Berkeley's library wrote a guide that is very helpful.

Let's evaluate my blog entry using some of these criteria from the guide.

1. Is this someone's personal page? Why, yes indeed, it is! I am just an expat who lives in Germany. This blog is intended for entertainment purposes only.

2. Who wrote the blog? Well, I did, but in this case, who is the "I" behind this? I don't give any information about who I actually am (i.e. my real name), other than that I'm an expat living in Germany. The Berkeley guide cautions, "an e-mail address with no additional information about the author is not sufficient for assessing the author's credentials. If this is all you have, try emailing the author and asking politely for more information about him/her" (Evaluating Web Pages). 

I'm not willing to share more information about myself via email, so please don't ask. (That is another lesson about the internet and it falls under Internet Safety.)

3. What are my credentials? In addition to not giving the actual name of the author, my entry doesn't list my credentials, either. It's important to use sources that are written by those who are qualified to write them. I know that I wrote the blog entry for a class, but that doesn't mean that I'm an expert about Germany. For all you know, I'm just another "Jim Bob" and I'm making up what I write. The Berkeley guide reminds the student: "You should hold the author to the same degree of credentials, authority, and documentation that you would expect from something published in a reputable print resource (book, journal article, good newspaper)."

4. Did I document the sources? Where did I get the information? In the blog entry, I noted that the information came from a lecture that our professor gave us. However, other than that, I didn't say much about my source (i.e. who is he, and are his credentials?) and there is no way of finding out if it's true. I'm not going to list the instructor or where I took the class in this case, because it contains more identifying information than I am willing to share.

So, there are some things to consider. This wasn't intended as a burn to the teachers or students. The assignment appears to be a short and quick one and doesn't seem to be meant as an extensive research paper. However, especially as students get ready for college, it's important for them to carefully evaluate the sources that they are using. 

Sincerely, Around the Wherever 

Work Cited

Barker, Joe, and Hennesy, Cody. "Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask." Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask. University of California Berkeley, 2012. Web. 09 Nov. 2014. berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html>. 

1 comment:

  1. Bravo!! Before I go on I would also like to say I'm not criticizing the teacher. In fact I'd like to thank him/her for keeping German alive - especially if these students are in the U.S. where German is dying a slow and painful death even in areas where there has been a strong German heritage (my home town)!

    I applaud you, Around the Wherever, for promoting responsible use by students of articles on the internet! The travel and expat blogs I read are great sources for personal research and for learning about places and things to explore further, but I agree that most of us should not be used as expert (and certainly not sole) sources for all things German.

    A former acquaintance of mine moved to Korea to teach English and started a blog. She blatantly plagiarized without citing her source (suddenly her writing "voice" changed dramatically and I found the source she copied from within seconds), and she was there as a _teacher_! Blogs should be used with great caution in connection to academic research.

    Thanks for posting this good and important message!