Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Being a More Efficient, Productive Academic II: Thinking About References

I talked in a recent post about adapting our writing for not just different audiences, but different modes and mediums of communicating our research and thinking. What this means, however, is that we as academics need to start re-evaluating how and what we use as sources. In other words, what is acceptable to use as sources and how do we integrate them into our work? 

As I was working on adapting some of my blog posts into a longer piece of a more "formal" publication. In my blog posts, I link to other blog posts (written by experts), press releases (from legitimate faculty organizations in higher education), and news stories. I started feeling nervous once I actually started to transfer links into footnotes. Are these sources good enough? Should I be hitting the databases or Google Scholar to essentially pad my essay with more legitimate sources?

Truth be told, I don't have time. Between my "actual" research and writing, my blogging, my teaching, and my life (yes, I have one of those, too; my family insists on it), I just don't have time to become a true "expert" in all of the fields that I write about. Again, this is the danger and argued shortcoming of being a "generalist" but I wonder if that's really fair. I never claimed to be an expert, and through careful online research, I'm able to find what I need to inform my arguments and make my point. 

I'm not saying that this essay (if published) should necessarily count towards tenure (not that I'm on the tenure-track), but it does show that I'm engaging in larger discussion about the field and the profession. But, again, as we change how we share our research and thinking, we are going to be forced to really figure out how to integrate these new sources into our own work. And so on and so forth. I keep thinking back to a student's essay that linked to a number of digital recordings of old blues songs that informed her argument about the book we read. It only worked if I could click on the links she provided. She conceived her paper to be read while listening to the pieces. Except I required that it be handed in as a hard copy. 

These are questions I am starting to ask myself as I conceive not only my own research and writing, but assignments for my students. We still prioritize the journal article and the research monograph, but for my students, that isn't the case. And, really, am I any different? I read journal articles because I believe that is where the best thinking is. I don't necessarily think that this is going to be true for much longer. If we teach our students to think critically and more broadly about what they use, then why do we necessarily always lead our students to the conclusion that peer-reviewed journal articles are best? 

I'm interested in knowing what readers thing: where are "references" going in the future?

1 comment:

  1. I am a current grad student, and have taught an Intro course for a couple years. Since I teach the lab component, and it's really more a discussion with lab activities than a lab, we have students write a couple essays. Because we have 8 TA's and 400+ students, we try to keep it standardized. The most difficult issue for me every time is grading the essays of those students who do not follow the instructions (And I tell them about the instructions every week, in class and via e-mail, and they are posted on Blackboard as well). The greatest difficulty I have with students who don't use the typical sources or follow the appropriate formatting, is that it's really hard to grade. I suppose if I were a professor and could format the class on my own, it would be easier to build in a structure to cope with creativity, but in this situation, I struggle with the students who either flat out do not follow instructions because they just don't try as well as the students who get excited by the project and ideas and also do not follow the instructions. I'd like to foster their learning in whatever form it takes, I am just not sure how to do it while still grading fairly.


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