Analysis of Literary Practices

In The Atlantic of July 2008, Nicholas Carr wrote a provocative article called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In it, he says

I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle…. 

A recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense. 

Since most of you are at the beginning (or advanced beginning) of your careers, I’m interested in seeing if you are part of this “sea change” – this will also help us get into the minds of our students and how they potentially approach writing and research.

So here’s what I want you to do for your first writing assignment. In a blog page – not post – respond to the prompts below.

PART ONE:

Assume I ask you to write a research paper the current field of online teaching. How would you go about writing this paper? In a well-developed blog post (grad students should go “above and beyond”), describe to me the specific steps you would take in researching this paper. Include all the actions you would perform, how you would find and gather materials, what mediums you would use (paper & pencil, keyboard, visiting the library, etc.), the time you would spend, how you would proceed with the paper (brainstorming, writing, revising, editing). If you do research online, identify the databases you would use and the search terms you would use as well. (You do not have to write the actual paper—just go through the process of researching it.)

As a conclusion to this analysis, compare your research and writing process to the process Carr describes in his article. Are you the kind of researcher he describes? And what implications does your research process have for the kinds of literary study (and/or writing and/or teaching) you intend to do?

PART TWO:

Now that you have looked at your own process, I want you to expand Part One into a comparison/contrast with others. Think of students you encounter either as a teacher or a fellow student. How do you think your process is different or similar? Are all practices equally effective? Are factors such as age or education significant? To help you deepen these ideas, spend some time looking at the research for a particular group of students – again, this can be the students you teach, or this can reflect your own age group. Finally, what does this mean for the field of online teaching?

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