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A Common Purpose
by Randal A. Burd, Jr., M.Ed. -- October 1, 2008
Award Programs on the Internet should serve one common purpose, to make the Internet a more pleasant, more educational, more efficient place to spend one’s time. In many cases, it is most obvious that this is the goal we strive to achieve.

Criteria for most awards expect coding to run smoothly and remain unseen, writing to be free of grammatical errors, links and graphics to function as intended.

Award applicants are most often expected to be protective of children (no pornography,

 

Randal A. Burd, Jr.

compliance with C.O.P.P.A.), to embrace diversity (translations for non-English speakers and vice versa), perhaps even to proactively espouse a pledge as an ethical citizen of this virtual community.

My latest surfing has led me to notice a growing trend to ensure websites are accessible to the disabled. Whether we embrace some or all of these criteria as awards programs, we most definitely have a common purpose in that the Internet should be better off for our actions.

One Question to Rule Them All

Whether or not your award program includes some or all of the above criteria, every criterion that you establish for your program should positively answer the following question, “Is including this criterion going to make the applicant’s site a better asset to the Internet community?” Let me think, would a website where coding runs smoothly and remains unseen be a better asset to the Internet community? Check.

How about a website site free of grammatical errors? Check. A website where links and graphics function as intended? Check. You get the point. This may seem like a rhetorical question. But if you look closely at the pages and pages of criteria award programs have developed, you are going to find criteria that answer different questions than the one above. They will answer questions such as: “Will including this criterion make it easier to evaluate websites with less effort?” “Will including this criterion prohibit me from repeating this one bad experience I had with a website?” “…enable me to not have to include this extra step in my evaluation?”

In other words, the one question you should ask about each of your criteria is, “Does this item serve my interests, or does it serve the interests of the applicant and the Internet community as a whole?” If your answer is “it serves my interests,” toss that item. Honestly, what is an award really worth when the some of the criteria for earning it only serve your own interests, preferences, philosophies, etc.?

Where’s Waldo: Honestly, who came up with this?

Now that I have suggested a guideline for selecting criteria for your award, let me challenge you to do something else—get rid of the secret word nonsense. I teach at an alternative high school, and when I give reading assignments followed by reading check questions, do you know what my students do? They read the question first, then skim through the text to find the answer. They don’t read 90% of the text I want them to read, only enough to find answers to those four questions at the end of the chapter.

That didn’t work the way I wanted, so I made sure the questions I assigned at the end of the reading forced them to read the information I felt was important. Is the most important information you want your reader to get out of your criteria really the name of your horse, your ex, pet bug, or whatever other ridiculous word you have chosen to “force” your applicant to read your criteria? Because let me tell you something, 99% of your applicants are skimming though you criteria to find the one sentence that says, “the secret word is ‘antelope.’” …and they haven’t read another word.

They didn’t feel they needed to, because 99% of everyone else’s criteria was exactly the same, and after skimming for all of those secret jungle animals, ex-girlfriends, pet iguanas, etc., they got the general idea. Except they missed that same part that everyone keeps missing, the one frequently ignored criterion which got you so annoyed you put the secret word there in the first place. So instead of having a secret word, have a field on your application where the applicant basically has to repeat that specific criterion back to you. YES, THERE IS AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION ON MY SITE! Or whatever criterion is ignored by your applicants…

There is Room for All

There is room on the Internet for multiple award programs with a common purpose. We can have different criteria, but all of our criteria should correctly answer this question, “Does this item serve my interests, or does it serve the interests of the applicant and the Internet community as a whole?” We can have different focuses. We can make better designers, writers, educators, artists, or whatever, while maintaining our common purpose and our individual uniqueness. For it is much better to win an award for truly bettering our internet community than for satisfying the whims of a lone evaluator.
 
Randal A. Burd, Jr. M.Ed.
Copyright 2008
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