Bean, Chapter 5

John Bean’s chapter 5 of “Engaging Ideas” provides some excellent guidelines for writing assignments in college-level courses. In particular, his “thesis-driven” guidelines are wonderful suggestions. As he aptly notes, too much freedom to write for many colleges students is actually debilitating: “these students are apt to produce wandering ‘all-about’ papers rather than arguments or quasi-plagiarized data dumps with long, pointless quotations…” In contrast, for students who are still learning to write, he advocates for a “thesis-governed argumentation” approach and for shorter “write-to-learn” assignments to prompt student writing before tackling larger projects.

I find Bean’s suggestions excellent. In particular, his check-list of critiquing the teacher’s writing assignment is very apropos: Is the assignment clear? How much time is required? Is the process explicit? Is it easy or difficult to grade? These are questions I need to ask myself when I put together writing assignments.

Palmer chapter

Carole Palmer’s chapter, “Thematic research collections,” examines an emerging, new kind of scholarship: digital collection. Interestingly, these thematic collections, she argues, are not simply support for scholarship, but instead are vital contributions to scholarship in this digital age. As Palmer notes, these collections “have the potential to substantively improve the scholarly research process.”

I find this idea fascinating, perhaps even an important evolution in research methodology, in that traditional research in the humanities and social sciences often has consisted in hunting down and discovering scattered materials around physical archives. The new digital researcher engages in all that traditional research, but also digitizes, curates, and presents it in a format that can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Also, the archive can keep growing from colleagues or aficionados who wish to donate or share primary or secondary source material.

One example, from the omeka.net exhibit, “Heroes and Villians: Silver Age Comics at Atkins Library” showcases original comics and comic book heroes from the 1950s-1970s. The collection features access to original comic books published during that era, as well as a historical overview of comic books in the U.S., videos, and other resources for researchers. I found this a very fun archive, which has original material along with history and analysis of the material.

UNE’s website for the Maine Women Writers Collection is rudimentary in comparison. Everything is predicated on the physical library archive. And the website reflects that reality.