As some of you may know, I’ve proposed some major updates to our department’s FYC offerings, and have been piloting a new version of our them over the past year. Most of the big changes are in the second semester, moving (rather dramatically) from a composition/intro to literature approach to a comp. & research approach. Last spring was the first time to do this, and it went pretty well, though I saw many, many things to tweak–mostly in terms of what “the research paper” means.

In July, I’ll teaching comp. & research in a summer term (five weeks, four days a week, that sort of thing). Taking my notes from last semester and the feedback I got from students in the course as well as the new departmental assessment that some colleagues and I worked on a few weeks ago, I’ve come up with a rough plan for the summer–it’s going to be based around something I’m going to call the “iSearch” paper–heavily inspired by Ken Macrorie’s invention: the “I-Search” paper. (And I apologize for the cliched device, slapping a lower-case “I” in front of a word, but I’m working from Macrorie here, so forgive me.)

Below is the basic concept as I’ve outlined it so far.  In the course, I’ll have my students work with blogs and social linking sites quite a bit, as well as more traditional essay formats.

In this class, I’m taking the highly useful approach to the research paper that Ken Macrorie calls an “I-Search” paper and updating it for our digital context.

What is the “I-Search” paper? Briefly, it’s a paper that:

  • is written from a sense of “natural curiosity” (55),
  • answers a question that “I need to know,” that “keeps nagging me” (71),
  • really counts for the writer and for others in the class (56),
  • is the result of a “thorough search” (56),
  • is “lively reading” in that it reveals the writer’s feelings and opinions as well as the topic itself (61),
  • tells a story of what you did in your search (64),
  • allows both the subjective and objective (167),
  • is documented (65),
  • and is also a whole host of other things…

That’s all really great stuff, but he’s a little dated–the internet wasn’t even on the radar then, and the ways in which we compose have changed quite a bit from the 70s, when Macrorie was working on these ideas. What we’re working on, I’d like to call an “iSearch” paper.

What is the iSearch paper? Basically, it’s a paper that:

  • isn’t pretending to be “academic discourse (Reid),
  • is written by an “I” (by a real person with a real voice),
  • is about some sort of real (perhaps burning) question that meets a real need for you as a real, live, human being,
  • is interesting for the writer to write (the result of a topic that matters to you),
  • is interesting for the reader to read (tells a story to other human beings about the topic, about the research, about the world),
  • is composed with multiple technologies and tools, and in multiple media and spaces (pencil, keyboard, cell phone, social, individual, word processor, blog, ___),
  • is researched in multiple media (print, digital, f2f, ___),
  • is rigorously produced (the writer has done due diligence in trying to answer their question–not measured by some abstract external standard, but by reference to the question and the needs of the audience and writer and their highly particular contexts).

So, the iSearch is all of those “I-Search” things, but brought up to the age of digital literacy quite a bit….  Hopefully it’s something that balances the needs and proclivities of my colleagues in the English department with my own.

(No, I haven’t included audio or visual media into the scheme of the iSearch paper. Yet.)


4 thoughts on “iSearch

  1. This is interesting and we need to pow-wow because this is exactly what I want to do at NCTC in the upcoming year(s). I’m not sure how receptive some of my colleagues will be–although an initial “test” seems to be positive–so I’ll be coming back to get some feedback on what’s working for you and what isn’t. I really like your “iSearch” paper thoughts… I’m thinking I’ll be “borrowing” some of this later.

    Hmmm… now I’m thinking…

    1. Of course, now get to introduce fun things like RSS and hope that they’re ready to integrate this sort of thing into their lives if they haven’t already. I’m curious to see what sorts of attitudes this group will have about the line between social networking and education, and if they’re ready to blur that line a bit. I’m curious to see if they’ll embrace social bookmarking or think of it as just another “thing” they’ve got to do and do minimally. I’m curious to see how the maiden voyage of the blog in the classroom is going to work.

      And I’m curious (and excited) to see how it’ll transform what we do in class every day.

  2. With respect to adding/using media, I would be somewhat concerned that the time restrictions imposed by the semester calendar might prove to undermine the final product. It takes a lot of time to collect and/or create multimedia assets for something I would consider equivalent to a research paper. And demanding proper citation for such a collection is difficult as well. Maybe you envision something on a smaller scale? Perhaps a video intro, abstract, or synopsis? There are certainly elements of “digital storytelling” in the process you have described in your post.

    1. I hear you, Alicia. I wouldn’t TOUCH new or alternative media in a summer course at this point (not with my own schedule, and certainly not with the rest of the course goals I’ve got to balance). That’s an idea that I’d like to work in for the long semester at some level, however. You’re right–it’s barely enough time to do traditional research, much less adding multimedia elements to the mix.

      At this point, I’m just focusing on getting them to mix narrative perspectives with academic moves, to focus on research reporting as a storytelling process (as you well put it), rather than doing a bunch of new stuff all at once just for the sake of doing a bunch of cool, new stuff. I’d like them to be able to integrate video and visual elements at some point, but am not yet ready to fully incorporate it (as I’m still learning a lot about this myself).

      (And I have a hard enough time getting them to remember how to use Blogger from day to day. I can’t imagine getting my students to use MovieMaker or Audacity. Eeek!)

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