Today our class will meet in Smith Library where the Head Reference Services Librarian, Lauren Brewer, will offer us instruction in conducting library research.
Where We’ll Meet
The library lab is in the basement. When you enter the building, you’ll see the staircase. At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll see a set of double doors. Go through the doorway and turn left. The lab is the glass-front room with desktop computers.
Looking Ahead to the Final Paper
Today’s library class will introduce you to the kinds of research you will conduct for your final paper, which will include a minimum of three sources. Think of the research ahead of you as the search for an answer you want to find, more specifically an answer to a question about our lives in the digital world (our theme).
If you are interested in the social media issues covered in the recent Facebook Files series published in The Washington Post, you might ask yourself what questions they lead you to ask. One of those questions could serve as your starting point. For example: Should Facebook be regulated to minimize its harmful effects?
On Another Note
In class I will distribute the worksheet for lesson five in the Check, Please! assignment series, due next Wednesday, October 27, at the beginning of class. If you misplace your copy of the worksheet, you can download one from the link below.
Although I have read Matt Richtel’s article “Blogs vs. Term Papers” many times, this semester marked the first time I had studied it as an exercise in analysis. Ordinarily, I include Richtel’s article on the syllabus as a prologue to my students’ own blogging. The article served that purpose in August as well. But as I found myself teaching a different composition curriculum that features an analysis as the first major paper assignment, Richtel’s article served a dual purpose: It not only oriented my students to the role that blogs would play in the class, it also provided them with the opportunity to study the way a writer—in this case, Matt Richtel—presents the ideas of the experts he interviews. By reading Richtel’s article, the students learned about changes in writing practices in college classrooms; by rereading Richtel, they began to see how his writing takes shape. The same was true for me.
The process of crafting a study of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” prompted me to meditate on the similarities between analysis and Scrabble, another feature of the course. The more I examined Richtel’s words, the more details I noticed. Similarly, the more closely I study the words on a Scrabble board and the tiles on a rack, the more opportunities for word building become apparent to me. This semester, the processes of writing an analysis of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” and playing Scrabble have deepened my understanding of how those two activities cultivate the focus that leads to the discoveries intrinsic to learning.
One of those moments of discovery occurred for me as I was rereading the paragraph in Richtel’s article where he addresses an argument put forth by experts who frown on replacing the term paper with the blog. Richtel reports their claim that if teachers want to reduce term papers to blog posts, why not bypass blogs altogether and ask nothing more of their students than tweets? In my previous readings of the paragraph, I was drawn primarily to the clever mimicry at the end. There Richtel omits letters from the words “Sherman’s March,” spelling it as “Shermn’s Mrch” to imitate the word-shortening technique characteristic of the Twitter platform.
As I studied the paragraph more closely, I saw beyond the intentional misspellings at the conclusion. Subsequently, what preceded the imitation of Twitterese became far more revealing. I noticed that the paragraph consisted of only one sentence—one of only two one-sentence paragraphs in the article—and that Richtel’s presentation of the claim demonstrates a flaw in the experts’ logic: “Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?” Realizing that Richtel presented one of their assertions as a logical fallacy, led me to this point: “To assert that defenders of traditional academic writing carry their opponents’ argument to an absurd conclusion presents those advocates of old-school writing as purveyors of the same flawed logic that their own traditional rhetoric supposedly teaches students to avoid.”
Additionally, I considered the effect of choosing to present the fallacy as a one-sentence paragraph, noting that “[b]y introducing an apparent contradiction in the argument of the advocates of old-school writing, Richtel subverts their claim; and by presenting that incongruity as a one-sentence paragraph, he highlights the issue.”
Reflecting on the effect of the one-sentence paragraph, with its emphasis on a single idea, led me to reexamine the other one-sentence paragraph in the article. That paragraph, a sentence spoken by Professor Cathy Davidson of the City University of New York, underscores the prominence of her words and ideas in Richtel’s article, an observation of mine that led me to the thesis, that “[a]lthough Richtel’s article appears to present an objective account of the disagreements among experts, a close examination of the diction and structure of ‘Blogs vs. Term Papers’ reveals a preference for the innovations advocated by Davidson and Lundsford.”
Rereading Richtel’s article through a writer’s lens showed me details I had scarcely noticed before, ones that now in plain view lead me to ask repeatedly, How could I have missed that? It’s a question I have also found myself asking when a word emerges from a seemingly hopeless combination of Scrabble tiles. Sometimes my students chide themselves for what they didn’t see on the board or the rack, but those realizations are almost always part of the composing process, whether we’re building words with tiles, or pens, or laptops. The closer we look, the more we discover, which is learning in its purest form.
Today in class you received your handrwritten draft with my notes and you began revising your midterm reflection on your laptop. I am writing a reflection as a model for you and will post it to Blackboard and to my blog before your reflection is due on October 20, the Wednesday after fall break. In the meantime, I am including here, as well as on Blackboard, the model reflection that I wrote for my students in late November and early December 2020.
Also in class today, you submitted the worksheet for the fourth lesson in the Check, Please! course. The summary and commentary that I wrote along with you appears below.
In the fourth lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, focuses his instruction on the third step in the four-step SIFT approach to determining the reliability of a source. Lesson four, “Find Trusted Coverage,” addresses these topics: (1) scanning Google News for relevant stories, (2) using known fact-checking sites, and (3) conducting a reverse-image search to find a relevant source for an image.
One of the concepts Caulfield introduces in lesson four is click restraint, which was given its name by Sam Wineberg, Professor of History and Education at Stanford, and Sarah McGrew, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Maryland. Click restraint is an activity that fact checkers practice regularly, but many average people do not. Fact checkers resist the impulse to click on the first result, opting instead to scan multiple results to find one that combines trustworthiness and relevance.
Caulfield also considers the issue of false frames and offers as an example the miscaptioned photo of a young woman that circulated widely after the 2017 London Bridge attack. In the photo, the woman, who is wearing a hijab, is looking down at her phone as she walks past one of the victims lying by the side of the road, surrounded by members of the rescue team. Because the woman’s face is blurred, viewers of the miscaptioned picture cannot see the look of shock that is visible in her face in another image taken by the same photographer. Subsequently, her apparent lack of concern for the victim seems to confirm the caption in the infamous tweet.
Choosing a general search term over a specific one is a useful and unexpected tip Caulfield includes in his discussion of image searches. He explains that the benefit of such a bland term as “letter” or “photo” will prevent the confirmation bias that can lead to the proliferation of disinformation through false frames.
Today in class you read and summarized the September 15 article from The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series. The summary that I wrote along with you appears below.
In The Wall Street Journal article “Facebook Tried to Make its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead,” investigative reporters Keach Hagey and Jeff Horwitz document the social media company’s changes in its algorithms, adjustments that the company supposedly made to increase meaningful social interaction, or MSI. Although data scientists working for Facebook concluded that “[m]isinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares,” the company resisted removing the boost that its algorithms gave to content most likely to be reshared by a long chain of users. In essence, the change had the opposite effect of its apparent aim.
And Moving Beyond Summary
Composing a summary seves as a useful follow-up to reading. Identifying the key points in a piece of writing and presenting them in your own words–and perhaps including a brief quotation–demonstrates that you understand what you’ve read.
When you move beyond summary to analysis, you shift your focus from a description of the subject to a close study of what the text means and how the writer constructs that meaning.
The movement from summary to argument–the move you will make in your final essay–involves a different turn. Rather than focusing on what the text means and how the writer constructs that meaning, you are placing the writer in conversation other credible sources on the subject and finding your own place in the conversation.
On Wednesday, October 6, you will submit your completed Check, Please! Worksheet for the fourth lesson in the series. If you misplace your worksheet and cannot print a copy, complete the assignment on a sheet of notebook paper. Be sure to submit it at the beginning of class on Wednesday.
Learning the two-letter words you can play in Scrabble increases your opportunities to form multiple words in parallel play. The list that follows includes the first thirty-three of the 101 playable two-letter words.
aa: a type of stony, rough lava,
ab: an abdominal muscle
ad: an advertisement
ah: an exclamation
ai: a three-toed sloth
al: a type of East Indian tree
am: the first-person singular present form of “to be”
an: an indefinite article
ar: the letter r
as: similar to
at: the position of
aw: an expression of protest or sadness
ax: a sharp-edged tool
ay: a vote in the affirmative
ba: the soul in ancient Egyptian spirituality
be: to exist
bi: a bisexual
bo: a pal
by: a side issue
de: of; from
do: a tone on a scale
ef: the letter f
eh: used to express doubt
el: an elevated train
em: the letter m
en: the letter n
er: used to express hesitation
es: the letter s
et: a past tense of eat
ex: the letter x
On Wednesday, October 4, you will receive your midterm reflection draft with my notes, and you will have the class period to begin your revision work. The works cited list that follows includes entries for some of the sources that you may cite. You are required to quote or paraphrase two relevant sources, one of which may be your analysis. If you choose to cite your analysis, follow the format of the work cited entries for my sample papers, “The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec,” and “On its Face, Who Could Disagree with the Transformation?: Revisiting Richtel’s Report on the Blog-Term Paper Question.”
Today in class you began planning and drafting your midterm reflection longhand. If you brought a paper copy of your revised analysis to class and completed the sideshadowing exercise, the marginal notes and the summary you produced may figure prominently in your reflection if you choose to focus wholly or in part on your analysis. That said, as you continue to work on your reflection, you may find your focus shifts to another aspect or component of the course.
As I noted in the instructions for the reflection, you are welcome to focus on any components of the course but no more than four, total. A complete list follows.
Planning, drafting, and revising your analysis
Keeping a journal
Completing Check, Please! assignments
Studying one of the readings examined class, including “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” “Skim Reading is the New Normal,” the first paragraphs of “The Falling Man,” “Facebook Knows Instagram is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show,” and the sample analyses
Writing for an online audience beyond the classroom/creating and maintaining a WordPress blog
Collaborating with your classmates on in-class writing assignments
Next Wednesday, October 4, you will receive your handwritten plans and drafts with my notes, and you will have the class period to begin revising your analysis on your laptop or tablet.
In the meantime, continue to think about your reflection as a work in progress. Freewrite and jot notes about your reflection in your journal.
If you take your reflection in progress to the Writing Center, you will earn extra credit for the assignment. To schedule an appointment with a tutor, follow this link: https://highpoint.mywconline.com/.
Friday marks our sixth Wordplay Day of the semester. To prepare for class and to up your game, browse the Scrabble site’s Tips and Tools.
Last Wednesday in class, we examined Ian Falconer’s The Competition, and you read two possible interpretations that the authors of Writing Analytically offer. As a group exercise in moving from observation to implication, you collaboratively composed a statement that included a detail that led you to find the first or second possibility more plausible.
Here are sample claims for each of the two interpretations:
The contrast between the raven hair and eyes of Miss New York and the platinum-blonde and pale-eyed contestants from Georgia, California, and Florida in The New Yorker cover The Competition by Ian Falconer suggests what the authors of Writing Analytically present as the first of two possible interpretations: The cover “speak[s] to American history, in which New York has been the point of entry for generations of immigrants, the ‘dark’ (literally and figuratively) in the face of America’s blonde European legacy” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 89).
The self-satisfied expression of Miss New York in The New Yorker cover The Competition by Ian Falconer suggests what the authors of Writing Analytically present as the second of two possible interpretations: “[T]he magazine is . . . admitting , yes America, we do think that we’re cooloer and more individual and less plastic than the rest of you, but we also know that we shouldn’t be so smug about it” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 89).
This semester, as you continue to practice moving from observation to implication, review these samples as models. Also note that each one is a statement that presents a quotation as an appostive, which is a word or group of words that explains the noun it follows. In each case, the noun is “interpretation” and what follows is the specific interpretation itself.
Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Chapter 3: “Interpretation: Moving from Observation to Implication.” Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019. pp. 70-97.
Check, Please! Lesson Three
In class on Wednesday, September 29, you will submit your completed worksheet for the third lesson in the Check, Please! assignment series. The sample assignment for lesson three that I wrote as a model for you appears below.
In the third lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, continues his instruction on the second step in four-step SIFT approach to determining the reliability of a source. Lesson three, “Further Investigation” covers these topics: (1) Just add Wikipedia for names and organizations, (2) Google Scholar searches for verifying expertise, (3) Google News searches for information about organizations and individuals, (4) the nature of state media and how to identify it, and (5) the difference between bias and agenda.
One of the most instructive parts of lesson three focuses on two news stories about MH17, Malyasia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger flight scheduled to land in Kuala Lumpur that was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. While the second story, a television news segment, appears to present detailed investigative reporting challenging the conclusion of the Dutch Safety Board and Dutch-led joint investigation team–the conclusion that Russia was to blame–a quick just-add-Wikipedia check reveals that RT (formerly Russia Today) is a Russian state-controlled international TV network, a government propaganda tool rather than a source of fair and balanced news. The first video, the one produced by Business Insider, a financial and business news site, delivers accurate coverage of MH17.
Another notable segment of “Further Investigation” addresses the important distinction between “bias” and “agenda.” There, Caulfield observes that “[p]ersonal bias has real impacts. But bias isn’t agenda, and it’s agenda that should be your primary concern for quick checks,” adding that “[b]ias is about how people see things; agenda is about what a news or research organization is set up to do.”
Today’s class will feature guest speaker Dr. Joanne Altman, Director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works, who will speak to us about Research Rookies. Founded by Altman in 2014, Research Rookies introduces first-year students to the culture of research. Participating involves remaining active in the program for two consecutive semesters, performing fifteen research-related tasks, and participating in a mini-research project.
Becoming a Research Rookie offers the first step in the path toward undergraduate research. Later, engaging in research as an upper-level undergraduate will provide an excellent opportunity not only to develop your research skills but also your writing and public speaking skills. And presenting your work at undergraduate research conferences—and possibly publishing it as well—will give you an edge when you apply for internships and jobs.
If you are interested in becoming a Research Rookie, please email Dr. Altman, email@example.com.
Today’s class will also include a journal exercise in moving from observation to implication, and time permitting, you will complete a group exercise as a follow-up to your journal writing.
Friday marks our fifth Wordplay Day of the semester. To prepare for class, review the Scrabble site’s “Tips and Tools.”
Next Wednesday, September 29, you will submit your completed Check, Please! Worksheet for the third lesson in the series. (I will distribute copies of the worksheet on Friday.) In class next Wednesday, you will begin writing your midterm reflection. For that preliminary writing, you will need to have paper copy of your analysis revision with you.
In The New York Times article “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” Matt Richtel reports on the debate in higher education on how best to teach writing in the digital age. While some professors have followed the lead of City University of New York’s Cathy N. Davidson, replacing the traditional term paper with shorter, more frequent blog assignments, their detractors—including Douglas B. Reeves, columnist for the American School Board Journal and William H. Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review—argue that blog writing lacks the academic rigor that fosters critical thinking. For Andrea Lunsford, professor of writing at Stanford University, pitting blogs against term papers creates a false opposition. Rather than replacing term papers with blog posts, Lunsford requires students to produce multi-modal assignments: term papers that evolve into blogs, websites, and video presentations. Although Richtel’s article appears to present an objective account of the disagreements among experts, a close examination of the diction and structure of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” reveals an implicit preference for the innovations advocated by Davidson and Lundsford.
The opening paragraph of Richtel’s article focuses on the academic paper as a primary cause of “angst, profanity, and caffeine consumption” among high school and college students. In stark contrast to the images of the term paper-induced misery in his lead, Richtel writes in the second paragraph that students may be “rejoicing” because Cathy Davidson—a professor at Duke when Richtel interviewed her—favors replacing the term paper with the blog. Richtel refers to Davidson as a “champion” for students and outlines her use of a course blog as a practice that has become commonplace in a variety of academic disciplines. Richtel reports that blogs provide students with a “feeling of relevancy” and “instant feedback,” then poses the question: “[W]hy punish with a paper when a blog is, relatively, fun?”
From that question Richtel turns to the argument of defenders of the traditional academic paper, namely that the term paper teaches essential components of writing and thinking that may be absent from blog posts. Yet after letting the advocates of old-school writing have their say, Richtel undercuts their claim with this one-sentence paragraph: “Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?” To assert that defenders of traditional academic writing carry their opponents’ argument to an absurd conclusion presents those advocates of old-school writing as purveyors of the same flawed logic that their own traditional rhetoric supposedly teaches students to avoid.
Notably, the one-sentence paragraph, unlike paragraphs with multiple sentences, places heavy emphasis on a single idea. It says to readers, this is important. By introducing an apparent contradiction in the argument of the advocates of old-school writing, Richtel subverts their claim; and by presenting that incongruity as a one-sentence paragraph, he highlights the issue.
Richtel’s reductio ad absurdum paragraph is one of only two one-sentence paragraphs in his article. The other consists entirely of Professor Davidson’s own words. Speaking of the mechanistic quality of the term paper, she says: “As a writer, it offends me deeply.” In addition to devoting that one-sentence paragraph to Davidson’s negative feelings about term papers, Richtel returns to those feelings of hers at the end of his article and lets Davidson have the last word, literally.
In the final paragraphs of the article, Richtel recounts a tutoring session Davidson conducted with a community college student. Though she frowned on his assignment’s rigid guidelines—including prescribed sentence length—she told the student to follow the rules, knowing that teaching him what she deemed the best practice might have led the student to fail. Reflecting on that moment, Davidson said, “I hated teaching him bad writing,” and with those words of hers, Richtel’s article ends.
Along with giving Davidson the last word, Richtel devotes far more of his article to the new literacies she and Lunsford foster in their students. Arguably, the innovative nature of the work could account for the considerable space that Richtel devotes to it. After all, what readers are familiar with—in this case the traditional term paper—isn’t news. But the preponderance of word choices that place old literacies in a negative light combined with a structure that diminishes the merits of old-school writing reveals Richtel’s implicit preference for Davidson’s and Lundsford’s innovations.
Readers revisiting Richtel’s article now, nearly ten years after he wrote it, may wonder how he would respond to the question he poses about the shift from page to screen: “On its Face, Who Could Disagree with the Transformation?” Richtel wrote “Blogs vs. Term Papers” in 2012, the year deemed the year of the MOOCs (massive open online courses). Once touted as the key to revolutionizing higher education, their success has been hampered by the same issues linked to the learning losses experienced during the pandemic. For the many students who have had little or no face-to-face instruction—writing or otherwise—in recent memory, more technology may not seem like an answer, much less an innovation.