Thursday, June 17, 2010

Research Papers, Blogs, and the Good Ole BYU

For my ENGL 295 class, we were also asked to compare conventional research writing with the kind of blog research writing that we have been doing for the last month or so. Well, here's what I think are the advantages and limitations of each type:

Conventional Paper Writing:

Perhaps the main thing that is different in a conventional research paper from a blog post is the tone. You simply have to learn to present yourself well, and you have to learn how to take a position and defend it. I think this kind of thing is valuable. Also, sometimes I think it is kind of nice to have a finished product, a paper that is whole and done. This kind of writing I think does "mediate literature" in that it does require that you take a stance and closely analyze the work. Sometimes in blogging, it is easy to be wishy-washy in what your are trying to prove.

BUT.... Ok, now on to limitations. With a conventional research paper, you really can't learn to hone your ideas. You can't get feedback. You turn in your nice little paper copy to your professor and then, well, either you did well, or you didn't. Where's the room for growth? Also, what exactly is the point for that research paper? I did a killer analysis of Emily Bronte's influence on the poetry of Emily Dickinson for my American Literary History class last semester. On the bottom of my paper, my teacher, Keith Lawrence, stated that the paper would make a fantastic (hold your breath) MASTER'S THESIS. Um, that's HUGE. Maybe not, but it was a big deal to me at the time. But now that paper is kind of just sitting on my computer at home, or perhaps in the depths of Professor Lawrence's office, and no one will ever see it again (unless I resurrect the topic when I go to grad schoool). So, are tradition research papers valuable? Yes. But could there be something more beneficial at times? Yes, I think so.

Research Blog Writing

Ok, I've already blogged here about how the course objectives for this class have helped me in honing my research blog. This kind of research blogging allows a student to publish exploratory musings on what they are thinking for their topic. I think that this kind of fluid thesis formation is a really good thing. It allows a student to get feedback they wouldn't necessarily have gotten. For example, my professor kind of disagreed with my thesis about online identity, but in disagreeing, he pointed me to really good sources that helped me keep some of my fundamental ideas, but also allowed me to tweek what I was thinking so that everything made sense. This brings me to another strong point of blog writing. In a research paper, I would typically use the first couple of sources that popped up on BYU's website, or google scholar. On a blog, people with real skills in this field can point me to sources that are top-notch. Here is an example of that. Also here and here are examples of how I tried to talk to people outside the class. This kind of interaction is so necessary to meaningful learning. My classmates did a really good job of reaching out to people throughout the semester: look at James' blogs and Neals' blogs for examples.

The learning objectives for BYU state that our classes should be "intellectually enlarging, character building" and "lead to a life of learning and service." Do blogs help accomplish that better than a research paper? Yes, I sort of think so. After all, are my "life-long" pursuits going to involve sitting in a vacuum while typing on a screen and then presenting a nice little printed copy of a research paper? Nope. I need to learn how to incorporate criticism. This is perhaps the most "intellectually enlarging" thing I can learn that will really help me my whole life long. I want to be a Mom. Ok, so I have to learn to realize how my kids are responding to how I try to teach them. I want to be able to help teach and serve in my church. Ok, so I need to be able to present things not in a "scholarly, stuffy" way, but in a way that people will really be interested in who I am and what I know to be true.

So that's my conclusion on this class experiment, I guess. I have learned to love this class. It has been beneficial, forcing me to learn in a new way. Blogs are good things. So are research papers at times. But blogs are perhaps more meaningful.

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