Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Idea" paper assignment from my two First Year Writing courses

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying some new/old things with the FYW courses I'm teaching this semester. One thing we're working on is a semester-long project that will be based on a topic of student interest that grows out of our class's reading of my university's new ten-year academic plan. Last semester, as my faithful follower(s) know, I asked students to contribute to the development of the academic plan by adding their thoughts to discussion boards set up to collect opinions about various aspects of the proposed plan. This time we're going to develop research projects based on the materials on the plan's website.

I've divided the project into three parts: portfolio one, portfolio two, and portfolio three. I planned for the students to start doing research for the second portfolio and finish it up for the third. Originally I was thinking of having students write a more-or-less formal proposal for the project for portfolio one, but then I read a quote from Benedict Anderson (in his memoirs, A Life Beyond Boundaries) that got me thinking about how students might approach the project:
The ideal way to start interesting research, at least in my view, is to depart from a problem or question to which you do not know the answer. Then you have to decide on the kind of intellectual tools (discourse analysis, theory of nationalism, surveys, etc.) that may or may not be a help to you. But you have also to seek the help of friends who do not necessarily work in your discipline or program, in order to try to have as broad an intellectual culture as possible. Often you also need luck. Finally, you need time for your ideas to cohere and develop.
So instead of a formal proposal, I decided to adapt an assignment given to me in graduate school back in 1999 by my professor, Louise Wetherbee Phelps. Here's the adapted assignment I gave the students:
Portfolio One Project

Explore an idea related to your responses so far about the academic plan; relate it as much as you can/need to the reading, writing, and discussion you've been doing. As genre, this is an informal global structure and can be meandering and even digressive as long as we can follow the train of thought. But to say that is not to say it can be sloppy or slap-dash--it's not a journal or quick response. It needs to be as rigorously thoughtful as you can make it, and what I would call "textualized" (rather than "formalized"). What that means is that it is acquiring the features of text including intelligible full sentences, explicit connections and order, surface control--enough so that a reader can respond as a fellow writer. It's an effort to externalize nonlinear, rather undifferentiated thought and move it toward sustained reflection. It does not require a traditional thesis statement; you won't necessarily be making an argument (although your essay might contain some argumentative elements). While you can use "I" in this, the focus should be on putting your experiences and thoughts to use in exploring an idea rather than writing an autobiographical piece.

If you're having trouble imagining this, here are some examples of the kinds of topics or ideas you might write about: 
  • What is a "global university?" How does the idea of a global university get expressed and discussed in the academic plan, and how does that relate to what the term might mean to you? What do you think about the concept being discussed there? (Why) Is the concept of a "global university" important to you?
  • What is an academic plan, according to what you see in the NU academic plan? How might it be developed and function for a university?
  • Explore the concept of "lifelong experiential learning"--what does it mean and how would a university support that? (Should a university support it?)
  • Based on your reading and writing about the academic plan, explore your thoughts about the purpose(s) of higher education in 2016 (and 2025?).
Of course, don't feel limited to these topics. In fact, I hope you pursue some angle I hadn't thought of.

In this "idea" paper, you can reuse what you've written before, but I imagine it will be refined and put to use in service of whatever new points you're making.

If you feel the need to go to outside sources to help you think about your topic, you can do some "light" research, but don't overwhelm your text with quotes, paraphrases, or summaries. If you cite or quote (including from the academic plan website), give me references at the end.

Length? While I'm tempted to say, "As long as it has to be," let's go with a number of around 1000 words, more if necessary.

I'll be conferencing with you next week (9/26-28) to check in with you about your process on this. Go to this form to sign up for your conference.
*The idea for this assignment (and some of the wording of the assignment) was adapted from an assignment given to me by Dr. Louise Wetherbee Phelps back in 1999.
We're still in the process of writing and revising these "idea" papers--I'll post my draft next, for your reading pleasure...

No comments: