Site Review Rubric

NAGT provides the portal to Teach the Earth, the collection of all things relevant to geoscience educators, including teaching activities, research on learning, pedagogical strategies, and a variety of other kinds of resources. All of these resources are part of project websites. Within Teach the Earth, project sites undergo a rubric-based peer review process through NAGT. The following guidelines are meant to help you develop or revise your site so as to meet the requirements for exemplary on the rubric. Additional guidelines at the end are based on best practices in web design and using the SERC content management system (Serckit).

Criterion 1: Relevance to the NAGT Audience

This criterion has three sub-criteria that will be scored and will sum up to the total:

  • Is the audience for the project well-defined?
    • On the home page of the site, there should be a clear description of the intended audience for the materials on the site. The audience does not need to be large; it does need to be well-defined. A casual visitor to the site should be able to understand immediately if the site is meant for them. Examples of good strategies to make the project audience well-defined include:
      • Mention audience in the title: Math tutorials for students in introductory geoscience (The Math You Need When You Need It)
      • Explicit text on homepage:
        • "This set of web pages will help undergraduate faculty and students apply new approaches to teaching and learning geophysics." (Teaching Geophysics in the 21st Century)
        • "The SAGE 2YC website provides resources to support 2YC geoscience faculty and their programs." (SAGE 2YC)
    • The tone of your site should be respectful of and appropriate to your audience.
    • Beware of being too broad. A common pitfall is to lump all K-12 teachers and university faculty into one audience, but it is very rare that a resource that will be useful for an elementary teacher will also be useful for an instructor who teaches at the undergraduate level. On the other hand, there is a lot more overlap between 9-12 (high school) Earth science and introductory undergraduate courses.
  • Are the topics and strategies described relevant to the NAGT membership or some subset of the membership?
    • NAGT membership includes elementary, middle school science, and high school Earth science teachers; undergraduate faculty at all types of institutions; informal educators at a variety of institutions; interested professionals; and graduate and undergraduate students.
    • Disciplinary interests of our membership span all aspects of the Earth system, teaching about the Earth system, disciplinary-based educational research, supporting students and faculty, and beyond.
    • The project focus may be broad or narrow within the geosciences; it may be applicable for a very specific group (i.e. geophysics faculty teaching an upper-level geodynamics course) or a very broad group (high school Earth science teachers), as long as the topic and strategies are relevant for that audience.
  • If local or regional projects, are they relevant/adaptable to other regions?
    • Much of geoscience content is place-based, and we encourage projects that focus on a particular location. If your project has a local or regional focus (e.g. coastal hazards in Florida), consider how it might be adapted to another region and include that information in your site.
    • Geoscience instruction is also replete with classic examples and type localities. Some projects that might appear to be regional (such as ones focused on the Grand Canyon, the Hawaiian hot spot, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, or the Bingham Canyon mine) but are, in fact, exemplars of different settings or events, and should be noted as such.
    • A project does not have to be applicable absolutely everywhere to be exemplary, but it should be adaptable beyond a single location. In those cases, you need to make an effort to show how and why it is adaptable.

Criterion 2: Grounding in Research and Best Practices

This criterion has four sub-criteria that will be scored and will sum up to the total:

  • Is the context of and need for the project made clear?
    • On the home page of the project, there should be information about what purpose the materials serve. This can be a brief statement that gets more explanation in additional pages (perhaps in an "About the Project" section), but it should serve to put the project in context. Examples
      • Mars for Earthlings seeks to expose undergraduate students to planetary study through Mars remote sensing data and Earth-based analogs. Mars for Earthlings
      • An awareness of the learning process can improve learning dramatically. Yet students are rarely taught how to develop this awareness. We can help our students to improve their learning by incorporating metacognition into our courses: by having them think about their thinking and by helping them to become aware of and monitor their learning strategies. Metacognition
    • Additional documentation about why the site exists is expected. The reasons a site exists may include a documented need, the outcome of a workshop, a grant or series of grants, or any combination of the above. Grant numbers and PI names alone are necessary but not sufficient information—the project was funded because of a need documented in the proposal, presumably.
    • Few projects stand alone: it is appropriate to describe and/or link to other projects that support or led up to this work.
    • Overall, it should be clear why the materials on the site were developed and how they fit in to existing resources.
  • Do the overall goals of the project reflect what we know from the research on learning and best practices in teaching?
    • Project web sites should make use of and cite what we know from research, whether that is research on learning, disciplinary research, or other education-related research (e.g. supporting students and/or faculty, institutional transformation, etc.).
    • Exemplary sites will employ strategies that are indicated as successful by the research, and the strategy (or strategies) being used should be explicitly described somewhere on the site.
    • More detail about including references is described below.
  • Does the project make effective use of those best practices?
    • Exemplary sites practice what they preach. In other words, any resources developed on your site should make use of the best practices and strategies that you say you are using.
    • For the user of your site, it may be the first time they've considered these strategies. If it is a new classroom strategy, or a new way of working with colleagues, they may need some support. Consider what the novice might need when they visit your site. And importantly, recognize that many resources exist in Teach the Earth to support the novice: you do not necessarily need to create resources about a particular strategy, because you may be able to point the user to resources that have already been created. Please see comments below for more about making links to other pages.
    • Keep in mind also that a separate review process exists for classroom activities. If your site has several activities as resources, the site reviewer will not check each of these in detail, but will explore a handful for consistency.
  • Does the project include appropriate and credentialed references?
    • The site as a whole should have supporting references from the peer-reviewed literature. Relevant literature may come from both education research and scientific research, depending on the theme of the site.
    • SERC has an extensive reference list already built. Make use of the Digital Library Connections to include references. You can also add references this way if they are not already there.
    • Any data used in the site should also be appropriately referenced. Most organizations that make data freely available also indicate how those data should be cited, especially government organizations such as NASA, NOAA, and the USGS.
    • The use of imagery and graphics is encouraged. However, the images need to be copyright-free. If you must use copyrighted materials, explicit permission must be obtained and this permission must be documented when you upload the image. Here are additional copyright pointers for authoring within SERC.
    • You may also have links to websites and other modules within SERC. When writing links, use these guidelines for creating links in the CMS.

Criterion 3: Robustness

This criterion has four sub-criteria that will be scored and will sum up to the total:

  • Is the site well-organized, easy to navigate, and is it clear what you are going to get when you go places?
    • The left navigation menu and home page should present a complete, clear picture of all the material in the site. Each page within the module should appear in the navigation menu; subpages can be indented and only appear when the main page is open; on the front page, links to the navigation should also be embedded in the text or listed in bullets. While this may be seen as redundant, this design approach supports users with different browsing preferences.
    • The order of links in the navigation menu should represent a logical hierarchy, and this order should be matched by links that are listed on the page.
    • Links in the navigation menu should only be to pages within your module. Links that go to other SERC modules or to external sites should be in the main body of page rather than in the navigation menu.
    • Links in the left navigation menu should lead to pages with the same titles. There should also be clear alignment between titles of a page and what a user finds on that page.
  • Are the resources provided sufficient to inform and support the new user?
    • It is difficult for the author and developer of the site to answer this question. Ask people to navigate the site for you, and tell you where they have trouble.
    • The goal is to produce a website that is accessible for your audience, not just you. A first time visitor to the site should have enough information to proceed.
  • Does the quantity, depth, and breadth of the available resources match the scope of the project?
    • Available, usable resources can be classroom activities, assessments, teaching strategies, etc. A small project may have only a few usable resources; a large project should have a lot.
    • There should be a balance between information available on the site itself and downloadable files. SERC has an excellent set of guidelines and instructions for uploading files and images. Take advantage of tools within the SERC system:
      • The "Slideshare" tool allows users to view your complete Powerpoint in a web browser without having to download it.
      • Files that have been uploaded once can be replaced with revisions rather than entirely new files—this keeps navigation cleaner.
      • "TeacherStash" allows you to limit access to files like answer keys.
    • There are many tools that can accommodate your ideas, so don't hesitate to ask the SERC webteam.
  • Is there alignment between the context, goals, and resources?
    • The project's goals should be aligned with the context, the resources developed to support those goals, and the quantity of resources provided, and this alignment should be clear to the user.

Criterion 4: Accuracy and currency

This criterion has three sub-criteria that will be scored and will sum up to the total:

  • Are the project materials scientifically accurate and free from misleading statements?
    • Please make every effort to ensure that your materials are scientifically accurate. With sensitive and potentially controversial topics such as evolution, deep time, and climate change, particular care should be taken to communicate clearly and scientifically.
    • If your site is large and has many resources, the site reviewer will not check each of these in detail, but will explore a handful for accuracy.
  • Is the project site actively maintained?
    • A site does not need to be constantly, actively maintained in order to be exemplary. It does not have to have weekly or even monthly updates to be actively maintained, but there should be some evidence that it is "tended". It can help to have a contact person with an email address listed.
    • For sites that were developed from workshops, the site should be reorganized so that the workshop is a sub-page of the module, and it is clear that the workshop(s) was in the past. Excellent guidelines for using a website to support a workshop that can then enhance the website are provided by On the Cutting Edge. If you have applications or other time-sensitive submission forms on your site, these should be removed from the live version once the deadline passes.
    • Avoid making pages or parts of the site live if the only content on those pages is 'coming soon!'
    • Consider making use of NAGT's news and announcements service to keep current events on your site rather than manually adding your own events, which need constant maintenance.
  • If not currently maintained, are the materials of an enduring quality?
    • Not all sites need to be updated constantly in order to stay current. Some skills and content have enduring qualities that allow them to persist longer.
    • Links to other sites are the most prone to deterioration. The way in which you format these can determine how easy or hard it is for your users to figure out what you meant when you first entered the link. Link text should clearly communicate where it will take the user. We recommend using longer action phrases and avoiding any variant of "click here."
      • Good: Read the 2005 Teaching Hydrogeology workshop.
      • Good: Web Soil Survey from the USDA
      • Not good: One of many sources for free downloadable topographic maps
    • Many projects have a natural lifespan and are not meant to be enduring, such as a topical professional development opportunity. These can still be valuable as examples for others and can still follow guidelines recommended here; when the project ends, plan to note on your top page that the project is over and the website is no longer being maintained on a regular basis.

Other things to keep in mind

The following topics are related to the rubric and are meant to help you in thinking about your site and how it works.

  • How people get to your site
    • Your ideal: They come in through the front door that you've carefully designed to greet them and introduce them to your topic.
    • The reality: The vast majority land on a page within your beautifully crafted site from a Google search—few visitors come in through the front door.
    • How to accommodate all visitors: Clear, comprehensive navigation is important. Someone who lands on a single activity or resource within your module should be able to see at a glance where they are in a larger site and get to more information if they are so inclined.
  • How people look at your site
    • Your ideal: They thoroughly read long paragraphs and scroll down to the bottom of long pages.
    • The reality: They do not read, they look at your site. They scan for links and bullet points. Dense text paragraphs do not get read.
    • How to accommodate reality: Make use of the fact that they want to scan quickly to lead them deeper in to the content. Overview pages with brief descriptions of each section of the site are useful. Show/hide boxes can be used to explain something in more detail within the same page. Headings that are questions or short, active phrases help people understand what they should expect below.
    • How to accommodate everyone's reality: Another very important consideration is accessibility for all users in as many settings as possible. You are not expected to be familiar with the complete set of standards for web accessibility, but there are several things you can do that will help your site meet those standards. Many are automatically dealt with within the SERC CMS, but some are up to you, like writing captions and descriptions of images and providing transcripts for videos.
  • Talk to us and get feedback!
    • It doesn't matter if you are new to this process or an experienced developer—it's always useful to get feedback.