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Critique and Care: Positioning an undergraduate open web project as a site for critical learning


  • Sarita Shukla, she/her, Assistant Teaching Professor, School of Educational Studies, University of Washington, Bothell campus
  • Alyssa Berger, she/they, Research & Instruction/Science, Math, & Education Librarian, University of Washington Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library
  • Denise Hattwig, she/her, Head of Digital Scholarship, University of Washington Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library

Project Question

The central instructional challenge we tried to solve was how to build student understanding of their rights and responsibilities as knowledge creators on the open web while also developing a deeper knowledge base about nonprofit organizations.


This project was completed by students in an undergraduate class in education on the Bothell campus. This class enrollment is not limited to students in Educational Studies. Students from other units on the Bothell campus take this class too. This is because this class meets the Diversity areas of knowledge requirement. In this course students explore and analyze systems of power and privilege and how these affect students’ learning opportunities.


We engaged students through a series of scaffolded activities during the quarter. These steps included two Canvas activities and a class discussion to promote critical understanding of what it means to work in open online environments and develop evaluation skills when assessing education non-profits. These activities prepared students to then create a publicly available blog post evaluating a local education non-profit for a broad, professional audience. Students then participated in a series of discussion posts via Canvas. These posts promoted peer engagement and feedback. Additionally, the discussion posts invited students to think critically about their evolving ability to critically evaluate online sources.


In a past iteration of this project, student feedback indicated satisfaction with participating in open work. Further students articulated the ways in which their work contributed to broader information access. Several students identified their process of working in the open as a tool by which they could help to work against information privilege. Many students had questions about evaluating non-profit organizations and web sources in general and were particularly interested in evaluation criteria. This feedback prompted us to rethink the activity and presentation around critical source evaluation for Winter quarter 2023.

This winter, we plan to spend more time explicitly discussing and practicing skills related to assessing the purpose or agenda of non-profit organizations. Furthermore, to deepen knowledge of non-profit organizations and to reflect on their own growth as critical consumers of online content, students will completed a series of discussion posts. These discussion post responses along with the formative quiz responses will help us measure the efficacy of this approach on student learning. Analysis of the discussion posts shed light on connections that students made from the specific critical context of evaluating nonprofits in this class to a broader skill set of critically evaluating news and media. Here is a student comment that exemplifies this theme; “The information shared throughout this course has helped me easily navigate a variety of websites and quickly locate and validate useful information. I have learned to not blindly trust websites, and to dive deeper into the ideas behind missions and their supporters to understand what an organization truly stands for.”


This is the third iteration of this project and our learning from these iterations have afforded us insights into implementing open web assignments sustainably. We hope to distill from our learning and offer concrete suggestions for fellow faculty about implementing open web assignments. Open web assignments can be adapted by faculty from any discipline and are a valuable tool for developing student agency to navigate the open web not only as critical consumers but also as producers of content on the open web. Furthermore, interrogating systems of information production and developing critical inquiry skills are worthy goals for any instructional context.

Additional Resources

In the open work introductory activity that preceded the blog posts, students shared insights that connected their public analysis of educational organizations to community benefit, their future roles, and sharing what they’ve learned with others. Here is a student quote that highlights this point: “Being able to share and contribute information for the benefit of the public, students, and others is something to be proud of. I feel like my critical review can give me new insight of social justice and how these organizations function and how they help their communities.”

Linked Resources:

Toolkit and resources for Student Success

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