Week 10 – Inquiry Versus Info-dump: Better Research Thinking and Writing in Any Discipline Posted on October 31, 2016November 16, 2016 by Ian Duncan Mackenzie What the heck is he doing here? I am not going to try to cover all the concerns introduced by Bean in this chapter. “Research” means something quite specific as we shift from one discipline to another, so I hope you feel free to talk about whatever particular idea you found most relevant for you and your domain. I am going to limit my kick-off post to one concern: Free choice or prescribed topics for research? I’ve gone down both roads in preparing major English term assignments, and I would say that if you are prepared to fully support the Q-defining and narrowing process with lots of class time and lots of conferencing, then it can be rewarding for students. If not, you are asking for frustration, data-dumps, all-abouts, and plagiarism. In the past I let my environmental literacy BXE students define and narrow their own topics – with some pretty good results, but with a time-consuming process too. I don’t do it any more because 1) I have a more specific set of learning goals for that part of the course and 2) I am better at creating a set of several options that stimulate inquiry AND also achieve those learning goals. For example, I now have them working within the genre of the open letter, and writing on one of three topical enviro controversies (recent eg. the banning of neonicotinoid pesticides) from the viewpoint of one of several stakeholders. I agree with Bean that our first concern with college students ought to be to stimulate curiosity and to model inquiry. As he notes, college students tend to think of research as “going to the library” (226) – or increasingly, to Wikipedia – when what we are talking about is a kind of disposition toward an interesting question, and its known and unknown unknowns. Arguably, we can stimulate curiosity if we narrow the research that students do, so they can better get excited by the inquiry. Several years ago, in my ICE:Writing English course we worked on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for several weeks. During that time, I discovered through some simple research several interesting and related texts: A series of song settings of sections of Leaves of Grass by the American composer Andrew Martin, posted to Youtube A letter of Van Gogh to his sister, where he talks about how he has been smitten by the poetry of Whitman An advertisement for the Apple iPad, that quotes from Whitman’s “O me, O life!” (which, you may also recall, is recited at a dramatic moment by Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) in the film Dead Poets’ Society). A newspaper editorial penned by Whitman himself, that argues against the abolition of slavery and the accordance of voting rights to African Americans So, for the essays on Whitman I pulled each of these sources – it is more accurate to call them “inter-texts” – into a topic. The topics required the student to create and defend a thesis in relation to an inquiry into the relation of a specific Whitman text and one of these specific intertexts. And as a result, I got to read some really interesting analyses. The “research” part of it was set up by me – but that allowed the students to really focus on the “inquiry” part of the work, which is to say the probing and analysis of the relationship between the texts. This kind of approach could easily be widened as the students progress in their skills – at a higher level, I might invite students to then identify two more inter-texts on their own, thus pushing them into a more traditional researcher role once they are motivated and confident. So, at least early in college, where we are definitely dealing with “novices” developmentally (228), I now think the more carefully we frame the problems into which the student inquires, the more likely it is that students will experience a maximum of the thrill of curiosity and discovery which motivates research, with a minimum of frustration and false steps. What should excite and interest students about doing research in your field? What research skills are required for competent practitioners? What kinds of projects and assignments can best elicit that excitement and hone those skills? Do you think that BIzzup’s “BEAM” approach is one that you could successfully import into your current recipe for teaching research writing? Posted in Uncategorized.