Critical Thinking & Information Literacy
Across the Curriculum
Essay #1: Identifying Biases and Preconceptions
Instructor: A two- part group discussion activity in preparation for essay
This discussion activity asks students to
examine bias -not only their own, but the biases of each of the
We developed this "pre-assignment" exercise to address a problem
we encountered the first time we used this assignment. The Padilla reading
("Affirmative Access: A Gay Chicano Lost in Cyberspace,") prompted a number of
unexamined, biased responses from the students. We decided that while students'
biases had stood out for us, really, all the readings were persuasive in intent
and thus equally as biased as the students' own responses. The fair task would
be to tease out and acknowledge all the biases.
Once the students
complete the reading and this "biases" exercise, they should be ready for the
writing assignment which follows.
Readings from Composing
Charlise Lyles, "CyberFaith: Promoting Multiculturalism Online, p. 113
Steve Silberman, "We're Teen, We're Queer, and We've Got E-Mail," p. 116
Max Padilla, "Affirmative Access: A Gay Chicano Lost in Cyberspace," p.
Group Discussion, Part I: Identifying the authors' and
students' preconceptions and biases Students will work in groups of 4-5
to answer the following questions. One student in each group will take notes so
that later, when the class reconvenes as a whole, he or she can report the
In the Lyles article, what assumptions does Ken Bedell make about
interactive communication on the Web (i.e. chat-room conversation and
What assumptions does Steve Silberman make about interactive communication
on the Web?
Do Bedell and Silberman have evidence for their assumptions?
Does Max Padilla share Bedell's and Silberman's assumptions before he has
spent any time on-line?
Before he has an actual on-line chat room experience, what assumptions
does Padilla make about what he will find on the Web?
Do Silberman and Bedell share those assumptions?
Does experience using the Web change preconceptions or reinforce them, or
does that depend on the user? Explain your position.
If it does depend on the user, explain how.
identifying own preconceptions and biases
On a gut level, whose reportage of Web experiences do you like best? Why?
If you disagree with some of what is said, what is it, and why do you
Group Discussion, Part II: Identifying the authors'
preconceptions and biases
Once students have worked through the issue
of bias, we want to have them work on understanding that especially in academic
situations, they will rarely encounter tasks where the answer is clear and
non-debatable. We find that students go for a black or white answer, but fear
shades of gray. That is, they favor simplicity over complexity, failing to
understand that college is all about working with the complex.
exercise, by requiring students to gather support for both positions, puts them
in a position to write an essay where the answer they give really does
acknowledge the complexity of the problem.
ambiguity: The question you will have to answer in your essay is whether
Padilla challenges Bedell's and Silberman's assumptions.
Your job at this
point is to gather evidence from the Padilla essay to support a "yes, he does"
answer as well as evidence to support a "no, he does not" answer.