Introducing A Web of Controversy: IE Seminar A

Join our class LMS (Schoology) by following the instructions on this PDF.

Seminar Description

The Internet can be a useful tool for conducting research, but care must be taken in selecting information, critically evaluating it, and making it “our own” by properly summarizing and commenting on it. In this seminar, students will go through this process while conducting a semester-length, group research project on a controversial issue of their choice. Some topics dealt with in previous seminars have been cloning, child soldiers, LGBTQ+ issues, immigration, bullying, global warming, and animal rights. This 20-minute video describes the seminar in vivid detail.

Process of Seminar

After the first few weeks of getting to know each other and trying to understand what makes issues complex and controversial, students will learn how to access different sorts of electronic sources related to a controversial issue of their choice. These sources will include websites, social media, online reference works, digital archives, Internet radio, podcasts, text and broadcast news online, etc. Critical evaluation issues unique to the various sources will be explored and a blog will be kept which chronicles the evolution of students’ thoughts on their controversial issue. Here are two sample blogs that students in this seminar from past years have created: CONSIDERING CONVERSION THERAPY; CHILDREN’S RIGHTS.

Creating an NGO/NPO

Ultimately, students will come up with a concept for an original NGO (non-governmental organization) related to the issues they have been researching. The NGO will be presented to the class after a unique name for it is created, along with a mission statement, goals, a set of activities, and fund-raising methods. Classmates watching the presentations will be invited to join the NGO and participate in its activities.

Enjoyable related tasks

In addition to the semester-long project, enjoyable short-term tasks will be carried out to learn about useful resources on the Web. Tasks will include, using our knowledge of the world to contribute to the site; trying to identify whether websites are ‘genuine’ or clever spoofs; creating online surveys related to our controversial issue; and learning how to use learners’ concordance tools to explore words and phrases related to our topic.

Some tasks that we will carry out early in the semester as a way to prepare for researching controversial issues will be…

  1. to explore the meaning and history of Earth Day, research and report on the activities of some environmental groups, calculate our carbon footprints, and possibly take part in Earth Day activities held at Yoyogi Park.
  2. to better understand the value of the “free” exchange of ideas we enjoy in Japan by exploring the relative lack of press and speech freedoms in other countries.

Here’s how you will be evaluated in the seminar…

Students will also be evaluated on their level of preparedness for class, occasional quizzes, individual and group presentations, weekly blog postings, the creation of a Web site related to a controversial issue, the ability to cite electronic sources using proper APA style, and the successful completion of classroom tasks.

  • work on group blog: 30%
  • commenting on classmates’ blogs: 5%
  • quizzes: 10%
  • regular presentations on progress in research: 30%
  • final presentation on NPO creation: 25%

Work to complete before our first F2F class on April 13

Before the class, respond to this intake form:

Also, read this article and answer the following questions about it in the Discussion area of the “Week 1 (on demand)” folder that you’ll find when you join our class on Schoology (see the link to the PDF instructions at the top of this page!).

Central to this seminar will be ways of boosting our “information literacy” and “critical literacy.” To do that, we will be learning how to vet sites and resources in order to find the most reliable, trustworthy, and up-to-date information. The above article from the New York Times explains why people in Japan may be a bit more advanced in resisting conspiracy theories than people in other countries. Answer these questions as you read the article:

According to the article, are the only readers of Mu Magazine people on the edges of Japanese society?

Have you ever heard of Mu Magazine or read some of its stories? What do you think of it?

What is QAnon and what are some of its core beliefs? 

What real world, actual problem did the QAnon conspiracy lead to recently?

How far back in history do conspiracy theories go in Japan and what were some of the better known ones?

What is “J-Anon” and what are some of its beliefs? Did it become popular in Japan?

What speculations does the author make concerning why J-Anon’s bizarre theories, and other conspiracy theories, have not spread widely in Japan?

What are some of the worrying signs the author mentions about the future of Japan’s relationship with truth and information/ critical literacy?

Do you know any friends or relatives who have beliefs that you consider to be odd? How do you handle that?

Watch the embedded video. What additional information did you learn about QAnon that was not communicated through the article? When we consume news, how it is reported partially depends on the media organization that is reporting on it. This video was created by BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). In what way(s) do you think that colored the way the information has been presented?

Now, watch the CNN video entitled “Ex-QAnon believer breaks his silence. How he escaped the viral cult” from the 1.55 minute mark. There is a clear and interesting explanation of how conspiracy theories spread virally. How was the American-based CNN coverage of QAnon different from the way it was covered by the BBC?