Friday, October 21, 2005

No Writer is an Island -- A TYCA-SW Presentation

This is a miscellany post, a collection of rough ideas and links for a presentation I'm giving today at TYCA Southwest :

No Writer is an Island; All Writing is Connected to Sources

Students know, on one level, that they need to acknowledge sources and use them wisely, but on another, they're also faced with being graded as individuals. Sometimes, in the push to meet criteria for their individual grades and finding their own singular voice, they lose sight (cite?) of the role source use plays in connecting their voices --and their arguments-- to a larger conversation. This talk will focus on strategies for helping students use internet resources more fully and richly.

From I Found It on the Internet: Coming of Age Online by Frances Jacobson Harris, some key observations:
  1. Libraries are formal information systems/places.
  2. Students' habits are informal.
  3. Things do not have to be either formal or informal because the Internet, to which libraries are linked, is an example of an . . .
. . .Information and Communication Technology
Barbara Fister's (See from her vita this reference "Teaching Research as a Social Act" and Teaching the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research.) research shows that successful student researchers, those who get A's, often begin their research communicatively. She also argues that it's possible to create assignments that help foster this communicative role. And of course, as a librarian, she knows that balance is important. Students do need to know when and how to use the library. Her work with Diana Hacker on Research and Documentation Online, work which informs all of Diana's handbooks, offers a wonderful resource for helping students find that balance. They'll find things on the Internet. Some of them not always so good. The trick is for teachers to find things that they can use to steer students in better directions.

What Fister's work celebrates is this simple formulation put forth by Doug Downs in a forthcoming digital publication from Bedford/St. Martin's:
sources are people talking to people. Unfortunately, our students often don't see this because they're often writing papers --let alone research papers-- that don't talk to anyone (beyond the instructor and possibly classmates).

Further, research and other writing assignments often focus on the mechanics of the things, and those mechanics are tied to the grade. So that as students write and research, they carry the burden and weight of those mechanics, which burden makes it even harder for them to find a rhetorical purpose and voice that seeks to speak. Instead of thinking of what they want to say, and to whom, and why, and how, they worry about
satisfying this kind of rhetoric:
  • Two weeks after the semester starts, all paper topics are final.
  • The final paper will be at least 7 typed pages .
  • MLA format will be followed.
  • Plagiarism will be penalized with a grade of zero on the final paper.
  • The thesis statement of your paper must be in your introduction.
  • There is a minimum of six sources:
    • at least one print medium
    • at least one non-print medium
Or from my own teaching at one point, this kind:
The Emerson College Statement on Plagiarism in The Emerson College Student Handbook warns that "plagiarism is the use of the words and/or ideas of another as if they were one's own and without acknowledgement of their source" (63). Please familiarize yourself with this policy by reading this section of the undergraduate catalogue.

Intentional plagiarism will not be tolerated. Any student who plagiarizes another's work will automatically fail this course. In addition, Emerson College will take disciplinary action and an official record of such action will become part of your permanent file. Plagiarism can result in probation or expulsion from the College. Most importantly, you are here to learn and gain skills that will serve you during your entire career and life; to plagiarize is to cheat yourself of this opportunity.

I don't mean to criticize the instructor whose bulleted syllabus list I quote from. I'd be a pot commenting on the color of a kettle. But I use these excerpts --unfairly in the first case because it is out of the course context and we have no idea, really, how the instructor tempers this and coaches and teaches around it-- as examples of the kind of thing I've seen get to students. For my own part, I've found it useful to back away from such weighted prose.

The language is headlight-on-high-beam harsh; it means to be. It's designed to be firm and clear. Unfortunately, it can also turn students into startled deer, one of the best ways to make them academic road kill. And if it doesn't do that, it frequently makes the reading instructors have to do drudgery because the focus on those kinds of details gets in the way of writing into a conversation. Form trumps purpose and stamps out argument.

Worse, this kind of language inhibits voice.

And voice matters, as Keith Hjortshoj reminds us in "Theft, Fraud, and Loss of Voice" (excerpted from Transition to College Writing). Keith writes (emphasis mine):
Both deliberate and accidental forms of plagiarism often result from the central challenge student writers face, especially in research papers: establishing a voice and perspective of their own. IÂI'vee already explained that if you have not established your own authority over the subject and a reason for writing, it will be difficult to identify the boundaries between your ideas and language and those of other writers. What you have to say will be what others have already said. Everything you write will come directly from sources and will seem to need citation. In their effort to avoid these strings of citations, students who are writing directly from research notes often drift into plagiarism, closely paraphrasing sources without citing them, or “borrowing” exact phrases and sentences without quotation.
So what are some of the ways teachers are finding to helps students find their voices and to have something to stay? Harris recommends having students do what they're doing anyway, but with more guidance from teachers -- creating and putting content on the Internet. She reasons that if students see how easy it is, it will help them appreciate how it easy it is and why there is so much stuff out there and how possible it is for much of it to be less than accurate, useful, considered, or trustworthy.

Some instructors are using
Podcasts. Andrea A. Lunsford's program at Stanford has students creating radio essays as a way to publish their wordss Many instructors are having their students use blogs, and "Teaching Carnival" roundups, like this one I linked to from Scribblingwoman, are useful ways to gather ideas.

Matt Barton has his
students writing a Wiki Textbook, with of course, a section on research. And Penn State has a whole Wiki Farm.

Others are helping students mimic not just essays academics write, but collaborative behaviors we engage in,
such as asking colleagues for help and sharing leads and resources with one another.

The key to all these things is not the technologies per se, but the uses to which they are put -- Information and Communication Technologies pedagogically guided become tools for helping students to understand, quite elegantly, that sources are people talking to people (for all the reasons people talk to one another). When students write, they enter those conversations.
Helping them to converse first and to write second, is a useful way to get them beyond the mechanics and weights of assignments.


At 8:25 PM, Anonymous online writing jobs for said...

Hey Nick,
Sounds great that you know all about your stuff! Its intriguing when you speak to someone who knows what they speak about, as oppose to reciting it from someone else they learned from. I can see you are very experienced and with your credentials it is quite obvious that you will make it far in life, or have already made it far in life :)


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