Tag Archives: Jen Klaudinyi

Rethinking Honors Research Papers

After a library workshop for the Honors Invitation to Inquiry Seminar last week, the honors librarian, Jen Klaudinyi, sent me a link to an article by Marc Bousquet in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Keep the Research, Ditch the Paper.” Jen said it resonated with the approach to research we were taking in the honors seminar. It did, and I agreed with many of Bousquet’s points. He encourages faculty to have students “address real research questions, and to compose in the same wide range of media actually used by scholars and professional writers.” He also notes that, while this doesn’t require throwing out the research paper altogether, it “might mean elbowing it to the side, and reimagining it as part of a broad band of complex, carefully composed professional communications.” This certainly is consistent with the approach we are taking in our honors seminars.

While the seminar students do pose research questions, write prospectuses, find and evaluate sources, create annotated bibliographies, and ultimately answer their research questions, they do not write a research paper. Instead, they write a thesis-driven reflective essay and participate in a two-hour round table discussion. In both of these activities, they address not only the research process but ALSO the critical thinking they engaged in while undertaking academic research.

Much of Bousquet’s article is actually his response to a piece published last December by Rebecca Schuman on Slate, “The End of the College Essay, An Essay.” Schuman (who it turns out is the daughter of my former Clark Honors College colleague, Sharon Schuman, and the niece of honors educator, Samuel Schuman, whose work informed the design of the Lane Honors Program) satirically argues that we should throw out the traditional college paper: “We don’t have to assign papers (emphasis hers), and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure.” Instead of papers, Schuman argues for a “return to old-school, hardcore exams, written and oral (emphasis hers).” She states that students plagiarize, buy their papers, or write papers with a focus on page count rather than on constructing thoughtful arguments. According to Bousquet, Schuman’s ideas so outraged academics around the country that many of them began calling for her termination from her position as an adjunct instructor.

I have to say that not every instructor or program takes the approach to writing Schuman criticizes, and Bousquet accurately points out that the fields of rhetoric and composition are ahead of many other fields in designing new approaches to the college research paper.

In terms of honors education, rethinking how to teach research without the traditional paper is an area in which honors classes can and should make a contribution. Honors classes are places where faculty can try out new pedagogical approaches and engage students in discussions about the old and new approaches. We’ve taken that step in our honors seminars by creating interdisciplinary research classes that, without the traditional paper, contribute to students’ ability to meet Lane’s five Core Learning Outcomes: Think Critically, Engage Diverse Values with Civic and Ethical Awareness, Create Ideas and Solutions, Communicate Effectively, and Apply Learning. They also engage the students in conversations exactly like the ones taking place on Slate and The Chronicle, which is why the Invitation to Inquiry students will be reading both the Schuman and the Bousquet pieces next week. If the ensuing discussion goes the way of our past discussions, I suspect they will have some pretty cogent ideas about how our future seminars might want to approach scholarly research, ways that will probably build on and diverge from what we’ve asked them to do this term.

 

ePortfolios

When we started the Lane Honors Program, then Vice President Sonya Christian had the program pilot student ePortfolios before ePortfolios were rolled out across the college. Each honors student is required to build and continue working with an ePortfolio while in the program. The ePortfolios were intended to showcase the students’ work, thereby acting as additional tiers to their transcripts and resumes; however, we also found other benefits. Several colleagues across campus who had already been researching ePortfolios formed a think tank, and we began to see that ePortfolios had a lot to offer pedagogically.

To augment the think tank’s work, Anne McGrail, Katie Morrison-Graham, Eileen Thompson, and I applied for, and received, Research and Development funds. We also asked Sarah Lushia and Eileen Thompson to be the leads on ePortfolios. They are each building their own portfolios and are teaching students in their honors WR 121_H and WR 122_H classes how to build portfolios, as well. We used the R & D funds to send Sarah and Eileen to the AAEEBL conference in Boston. They returned with a wealth of evidence that ePortfolios are an effective pedagogical tool that is especially useful for teaching critical thinking, one of Lane’s Core Learning Outcomes (CLOs):

logo_cropped_small

Sarah and Eileen also explained that best practice for using ePortfolios in the classroom is for faculty to build and use ePortfolios themselves. I admit I came to this idea somewhat reluctantly if only because I couldn’t imagine finding the time to work on an ePortfolio. With technological assistance from Kevin Steeves and Jen Klaudinyi, however, I did begin building an ePortfolio:

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 2.44.11 PM

I found that it was useful for me to think through the ways my various interests and projects intersect. I have also been teaching students in the honors seminars to build portfolios and to use them for critical thinking. This winter will be the first time that I’ll use my own portfolio as part of the instruction in the honors seminars. I’ll be writing about that experience and about the Honors Program’s work to encourage honors faculty to incorporate ePortfolios into their teaching in future posts. In the meantime, I’m including the link to my ePortfolio. It is filled with empty pages and pages with little or no reflection, and while I realize that this is not the recommended way to share one’s portfolio, I’m willing to take the risk. It’s my hope that my learning curves for building an ePortfolio, teaching using ePortfolios, and helping administer a program that requires ePortfolios will progress along parallel paths and reflect related moments of learning best made visible by sharing the entire process.