DIY “Essay”

Posted on July 29, 2011


This year I’m teaching Web1 (1 because it is in first year, the subject matter is Web2.0).   The course has a large project that generates 50% of the marks.  Another 30% is for achievement of weekly learning outcomes – this is entirely self and peer assessed through a collaborative learning approach – all their work is on a wiki .

We’re keen to get the students to up their critical thinking so the last 20% is an “essay”.   Last semester I took the essay out on the grounds that a traditional essay doesn’t really fit the Web2.0 paradigm.  But I was disappointed in the level of critical analysis in the written work they did do – in their personal reflections and so on.   So the essay is back.  Sort of.

Here’s the brief:

You will complete a formal work in the area of the social implications of an aspect of communications technology.

Both the question and the form of this work will be individually negotiated between the student and Sam. Eg formal essay, research article, Wikipedia contribution, a radio feature (yes really, see

You will write a short proposal that includes 200 words on your thoughts on each of four peer reviewed papers related to your topic area. The proposal must finish with an outline of your “essay”.

Students can present the work in any format that:

1. Supports the development of an argument with justification and evidence based examples.   In the proposal, students have to justify how this form provides a vehicle for creative and evidence based development of an argument.

2. Supports citation of at least four peer reviewed articles. APA6th referencing must be used (although appropriate to the form should be used, deviations from APA must be agreed beforehand).

3. Can be submitted via your wiki, webpage or blog. (ie if you perform a song, you’ll need to video it).

To give the students some guidance in the question, we worked up in class a set of question ideas:

How might Web2 principles promote democracy?

How can computing make the invisible visible?

How did the internet affect the “Arab Spring”?

What is the impact of participatory media on local government?

What are the employment implications of time spent playing online games?

How might radical transparency affect business?

How can we harness humanity’s cognitive surplus for social good?

In what ways are the changes of today a repeat of social and business changes brought about by the telegraph?

How is the concept of the prosumer affecting the role of the computing professional?

What are the social implications of the long tail?

What are the potential implications of a move to weightless exports?

How has trust changed in the last ten years?

Does gender imbalance on sections of the internet result in unhealthy interactions?

Can a digital diaspora help support indigenous communities?

Is the internet neutral?

To what extent are collaborative ventures (+/- open source) replacing traditional business?

To what extent do patterns in social networks mirror or affect patterns in real life?

How can social media support human development in 3rd World countries?

What is the potential for leveraging social networking to overcome digital divides?

What are the health implications of ubiquitous computing?

What are the implications for newspapers of social media?

Are negabehaviour games a positive development?

Is the internet a need or a want?

The marking schedule is also negotiable, although I don’t expect many to stray far from the default:

  • Development of argument, justified 12 marks
  • Content and style appropriate for agreed format (includes language, clarity, spelling). 5 marks
  • Appropriated referenced 3 marks (APA6th unless otherwise agreed).

There is also a bonus 5 marks available for innovation in approach – I want to give credit for people pushing the boundaries.   Not entirely sure how to define this  (memo to self: “define x factor”).    I’ve fudged it at the moment by saying this component will be peer assessed.

Might work.  Or I might get 40 essays.  But at least I gave them the choice. Will keep you posted.