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Creating Individual "Infospheres" on the Web
An example of an infosphere from Jasmine Mulliken
The infosphere assignment calls on students to identify online sources of information they regularly take in and to create a representative structure for this information. Students must build their own unique infospheres and organize them as they see fit.
Rhetorical analysis, citation, research, invention, digital literacy.
Mind mapping software (Novamind, Freemind, etc.)
Aggregator website (Netvibes, iGoogle, etc.)
This project was implemented in an intermediate rhetoric course, RHE 309K The Rhetoric of Web Identity.
Michael Vlahos defined "infosphere" in 1996 as "the fusion of all the world's communications networks, databases and sources of information into a vast, intertwined and heterogeneous tapestry of electronic interchange" (498). The thirteen years since his article was published has seen, among ather things, a shift in use of internet from the impersonal to the personal. Individuals now have their own infospheres, personal tapestries of information that they choose to absorb on a day-to-day basis. The infosphere assignment calls on students to identify online sources of information they regularly take in and to create a representative structure for this information. One way to do this is through an aggregator site such as Netvibes. Students must build their own unique infospheres and organize them. The bases for this organization becomes apparent not only in the way the student displays his or her infosphere on the webiste, but also in the secondary and explanatory requirement--the mind map.
This 6-7 week assignment requires students to construct both a visual and a verbal representation of their infospheres. During the process, it is important to discuss theoretical ideas about the web, sociology, and argument so that students understand what makes up their infospheres, but also why and how these sources play a role in their formations of identity.
Begin the unit with a discussion of infospheres. This discussion can be up to a class in length and may include whole class discussion, group discussion, and/or lecture.
The next class period should focus on the idea of aggrogator sites and should include a demonstration of how one works. I used Netvibes. After explanation and demonstrations, let the students work on their own for 15-20 minutes, addressing any questions that come up during that time.
The next class period might deal with structuring information. (This could be done before the aggregator discussion, but I found it useful to have the material already so there was something to fill up the structure with.) Talk with students about how we structure our lives based on role or time or any other framework. This discussion could be half a class, and the next half could be an explanation/demonstration of NovaMind or another mind mapping software. Again, allow some time for students to play with the software in class.
The next few class periods, allow time at the beginning or end of class to work on project. In the meantime you might have them do readings over information structures or identity and its modern influences and discuss these readings and the ideas they evoke. Tie these ideas in to the infosphere so that the theory behind the assignment is always relevant.
It might be a good idea to have one full class dedicated to working on the project toward the end of the unit. You may not need this, though, if you've been allowing a block of time throughout the unit for work.
This assignment has two parts: a mindmap reflecting the structure and reasoning for your website; and a website reflecting your infosphere as discussed in class.
Create, in an online environment, a space that represents your infosphere. You should use an aggregator site such as netvibes.com or igoogle.com to bring together the various information you take in on a daily basis. This may include any news sites you visit, radio stations you listen to, shows you watch, social sites you visit, email accounts you check, lectures or podcasts you listen to (like church sermons or class feeds), and the like. You may want to create different tabs that effectively categorize the information by role. Perhaps you read different magazines or journals for your job or classes than you do for entertainment. Maybe you want to separate your personal email account from your school email account. Keep in mind how you organize the information you take in and try to represent that through the interface.
As a precursor to building your website, map out the various components of your infosphere in a mind map. This map can serve as a brainstorming space and help you think through the different uses of the various information you take in on a daily basis.
Be as thorough as you can. Include everything you receive information from or take into consideration when constructing your reality. Remember, though, that you are trying to represent mainly the information you take in and not the information you put out. Sometimes these lines intersect, but try to contain this assignment as best you can to information you receive and process.
Upload as a jpeg your infosphere mindmap by the due date. The map should have at the center your name. The first level of nodes should represent the tabs that will be at the top of your netvibes site (or the first level of organization on any other site you're using). The next level of nodes should be the titles of the blocks you will be putting under each tab. The nodes under the block titles should explain how and how often you use the information in the block, when and why you started using it, and a brief description of the site represented in the block.
Post a link to the finished site to the submission area for the assignment by the due date.(Check the calendar on the course website.) Additionally you may post a link in the class forum if you're willing to share your infosphere with the class. Be as thorough as possible. If you find along the way any sites that aren't part of your current infosphere but that you want to make part of it, definitely add those in! This assignment is meant to be both reflective and generative.
The grade on this assignment is based on the thoroughness of the site and the mindmap. In cases where students may have fewer objects in their infospheres, the amount of information and description in the mind map should show a thorough understanding of the role of those objects. The page should be well organized according to a specific structure defined by the student. The mindmap and website should show structures consistent with each other. Many objects on the website does not guarantee a good grade. Grade is based on evidence of the student's understanding of the purposes of those objects.