research and writing II

Saturday, December 20th, 2003

I would generalize that if most people heard that life existed on Jupiter, they wouldnt think much of it, unless thy also heard that that life had crowded onto ships and was on its way to enslave planet Earth. This is why science fiction writers make aliens nasty rather than innocuous. It keeps us interested. Do you buy this?

In my literature courses I expect people to write a research paper (thus to be able to write one). In British Literature, we work with multiple forms of assessment: classroom discussion, short answer and essay riffs on take home exams, and a research paper on some topic not really detailed in lecture or discussion, such as Nennius or the export of ale and its influence on the London economy in the Middle Ages.

But what does it mean that I expect people to know how to write (hence to execute) a research paper? Is this a responsible statement? Does it reflect changing methods, conventions, and expectations? Professor Sally Terrell and I have talked about this subject for years and we’re having frequent and serious discussions about it now as we continue to evolve as teachers in an evolving department at an evolving school. And now Susan and Jason have also become a part of the conversations.

What do I mean when I say research, and how do people interpret that term? In my own mind, I hear research and think the laboratory. Research and Development. AT&T. I see people focused on pages illuminated orange by library lamps. I hear the nuts and bolts being tightened on atom smashers. I think citations, quotation form, thesis statements, and ornery teachers who can sniff a comma splice from under a ton of blue cheese. I hear groans. Research depends on what we are asked to do and what we happen to be doing and where we happen to be. In this age we need to know things. I may want to know how to enroll in school. I call the school and ask. This is a kind of research: I have a question that needs answering.

To define research we need simplification. Let’s say I want to learn about skateboarding. I just have this compulsion to know about it (or maybe I have a compulsion to know about algebra or light or a potential job). Let’s say I’m lucky: as this compulsion is surfacing I happen to be in a composition course where I’ve been asked to write an essay about something that interests me. This is what I call lucky strike.

Were products of the Enlightenment. We ask questions that cant be satisfied by the priest or rabbi. The priest may have an opinion about Steven Winebergs conception of the first three minutes of time, but to argue with the math would take more than theology or faith. There are things that it may be important to know before one becomes an economist. Maybe some logic and ethics would be nice. The same goes for the literary critic, the teacher, or the computer programmer. Computer programming, I assume, is more than just programming. In America, the programmer is also a citizen.

Would this programmer care if the Jupiterians were on their way?

10 responses to “research and writing II”

  1. gibb says:

    Though I don’t quite follow your line of thinking (not unusual), as one who nearly didn’t turn in a final paper because I hadn’t taken the proper amount of time required to THOROUGHLY read rather than scan the data I collected in plenty of time, I was caught up in a dilemma last minute to fit all the pieces together.

    Research is more than just the collection of all possible viewpoints on a subject, it should be the knowledge to know what to focus upon without getting lost. Both sides of a question should be considered and evaluated, and all PERTINENT information only should be noted and probably listed so that it forms a logical sequence.

    Obviously, this is not what I had done or I wouldn’t have found myself in a last-minute panic situation. I had collected it all, scanned it, satisfied myself that I had plenty of reading matter, then found it to be lacking for my purposes, but leading me onward in other ideas.

    As for programmers caring about Jupiterians coming over, I would think that if the possibility existed, then programmers indeed should be concerned becaue it would indicate superior intelligence and guess whose jobs would be first to be overtaken.

  2. gibb says:

    As an early morning edition/addition of intelligent thought (!), research done for classwork is a mini-rendition of the whole purpose of education, especially on the college level. It is a condensed version of learning through thinking, developing a thought process and method of using both past experience of a learned topic and the logical sequence of seeking out new information to confirm or refute what is known.

    While some things learned in a classroom MUST stick with us if they are relative to our future career choice, for example chemistry to a chemist, the reason for a well-rounded education is to learn a thought process more than the subject (algebra or a foreign language to someone who will never use them). So if the Jupiterians should show up, we have a more diverse background of knowledge to draw from to deal with it, and a few different learned approaches to figure out how to greet them.

  3. Rina says:

    I expect people to know how to write (hence to execute) a research paper. Is this a responsible statement?Sure, it is a responsible enough expectation, in theory. I just don’t know how realistic it is.For instance, in my case…I had been out of high school for more than a decade before my path led me to Tunxis.My academic profile prior to this had consisted of comments such as: “She made it by the skin of her teeth; does not work to full potential; and my favorite comment from my high school gym teacher was one word: Apathetic.”So, when I came to Tunxis, one could pretty much say that I was a VERY clean slate.My English Comp instructor threw me right into analysing information, some of which kind of freaked me out…rather than teaching me method. I was SO intent on battling the information that I did not absorb method.At CCSU, anyone who is a history or an education major has to take a class that is called Historical Imagination. It is a relatively new requirement. The reason why it was added to these two programs is because the professors got tired of complaining about how horrible students’ research papers were…they were little more than book reports and they sucked, apparently.Also, as a result of the internet (the internet is the scapegoat, at least), I think they were seeing a high increase in cases of plagerism. This is why CCSU is on High-Orange alert for plagerism (Which is actually VERY stressful for someone who is hyper-obsessive about ethics to begin with.)According to my instructor, who was the chair of the history department this year…they hope that by traumatizing (my exaggeration) the education majors with this class, these future teachers may take the time to teach this in high school, where it should have been taught in the first place.The class is really intense…they teach the library skills, which really expanded my universe…and the formula, if there can be a ‘formula,’ for developing a thesis and writing ten pages in support of it.The word ‘thesis’ in itself is one of those elusive words that we all pretend to understand but then when it comes to a research paper we somehow tend to blow it all straight to hell.That this woman hammered the idea of thesis, argument and theme into this battle fogged head of mine is nothing short of a miracle.If I get something more than an A-, I may actually die of euphoria. And even now if I allow myself to think about it…I start to panic that I may have strayed from my thesis. I swear it’s like electric shock therapy.For me, this particular class was invaluable because my reasoning has become extremely abstract with old age…it forces me to write a paper for the reader and it makes me stay focused on my thesis.This was done by studying the ‘form’ that writers use. We used to do these mindnumbing excercises on pointing out the subject, question, and thesis of various works. It wasn’t fun. ESPECIALLY because I didn’t learn how to skim through the material till the very end. Like an idiot, I insisted on reading EVERY chapter of EVERY book rather than skimming for subject, question and thesis.If I had done my full run at CCSU, chances are I would have taken this particular class in my sophomore year. I don’t blame Tunxis for not equipping me with these skills but I think that if research method could be incorporated in an English Comp class or some other such preliminary class…it would be invaluable, in my opinion.Did I answer the question?

  4. Rina says:

    In regards to aliens…According to a VERY strange man/ scientist(?) that was interviewed on NPR Saturday morning…the reason why aliens should be portrayed as malevolent creatures would be to unite humans as a species.If I were half as conspiritorial as I had been a few years ago, I would have been REALLY freaked out by this particular interview.

  5. ersinghaus says:

    ” . . . to confirm or refute what is known,” Susan G writes. This is definitely key.

    But how to teach it, that’s the key for me.

    Any suggestions?

  6. gibb says:

    Research would be starting with an idea based upon knowledge, then seeking to confirm or refute.
    A very focused process.

    Searching would be with or without some starting point of knowledge, then seeking to add to it. Here again is the shotgun effect, with the side effect of learning something new.

    How to teach the difference? I don’t know.

  7. Jason says:

    Education has become mass education, with the only yardstick being a decent batting average. When educators have to apply to the lowest common denominator in an attempt to reach as many students as possible, quality suffers. Plagiarism and its cousin (paraphrasing) are running rampant, but that’s not the worst. This attitude filters down to the students as well. Here’s an example.

    In my recently completed 3D Design class, the emphasis seemed to be on providing a zero-stress environment more than any kind of learning! Every attempt at a project, no matter how feeble or half-assed, was met with a ‘Great!’, or ‘Terrific!’. On my final project, my partner stressed so many times about how she wanted to make it ‘easier’ and ‘simpler’ and ‘not put a lot of time into it’ that it made me sick. No kind of pride in accomplishment, just collect our ‘A’ and go.

    How to teach the kind of skills needed to write coherent research papers? Starting in the early grades, intensive lessons on writing, oratory, debate, project management, etc. Papers assigned at regular intervals with extensive feedback on form, coherence, logic, and effectiveness. Tests given as oral examinations before an impartial panel. Long-term large-scale collaborative projects would also help.

    People would be completely absorbed with the news of inteligent alien life. Their intentions would be irrelevant, people are always looking for an excuse to focus their attention outside of their own lives. That would be a perfect one.


  8. gibb says:

    I partially agree, Jason. But the 1980’s brought a new kind of thinking–everyone is equal, no one has the right to tell you you’re not doing well because “expression” rather than accomplishment is more important; teachers and even parents are your equal–not your superiors–all this leading to an overconfident individual formed into thinking he can do no wrong because his way of thinking or expressing himself is really the most important–right or wrong, with a resultant lack of respect for anyone else’s intelligence or authority.

  9. Jason says:

    I sort of agree with that philosophy in principle, but it needs reservations. I don’t care how the student achieves the result, or even the exact from something will take. All it needs to do is fulfill the objectives. In the example of a research paper, it needs to cover the topic, present it logically, and be coherent. Now whether the student used a thesis statement, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion, or the studnet just sat down and wrote it, as long as it meets those three requirements, it works. In Matrix-ese, ‘Many paths can lead to the same destination.’


  10. Spinning says:

    EDUCATION: Its Purpose and Goal

    Yes, if youbre going to be a doctor you should not only study Biology for the exams and papers, but truly learn it because we all believe youbre going to know and remember this stuff when we come to your