Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 85.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Mon, 03 Jul 2000 06:51:25 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: the craft of (computer-assisted) research
At King's College London as elsewhere, I suspect, incoming students'
knowledge of computing increases in leaps and bounds each year and so is
pushing us exactly in the direction we want to go: away from mere
button-pushing to what is more properly the concern of humanities
computing. A somewhat less positive but equally true way of putting this
is: at each push we need again to figure out what is left for us to teach.
Fortunately, at least from where I stand our domain doesn't seem to be
getting any smaller, and certainly no less interesting or challenging.
In the immediate terms of classroom work, the shift away from a focus on
button-pushing to a struggle with its implications means an increasing
emphasis on questions that require an essay for an answer. Reading such
essays one quickly finds that students tend not to know what an argument is
nor how to deal with evidence in support of it. (When I ask students to
present an argument, e.g. about their text-analysis of O.J. Simpson trial
transcripts or discussions of the Millennium Dome, I don't get arguments, I
get stories of their experiences: "first I did this, and then I tried
that...".) It may not be the central business of humanities computing to
teach the elements of critical thinking, argumentation and writing, but of
course no department can wait for someone else to do the job. And if we're
not teaching the students how to think and write critically with the
computer, then we're getting closer to useless with each passing year. So
what do we do?
Concern about the problem is quite widespread, with a great deal of
material online, for example, focusing on "critical thinking" and how to
develop the ability to do it. As a stimulus to our own thinking about the
subject, I have filtered out a selection and offer it here, at
<http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/development/>. I would be most grateful for
comments and for suggestions about what I might add to my list.
Wayne C Booth et al, The Craft of Research (Chicago, 1995), seems excellent
as a book to adopt or strongly to recommend for the purpose. Are there
others you would suggest?
Coming out of this, I would hope, is a rather more specialised focus on how
to do, think through and write about *computer-assisted* research.
Meanwhile, however, it does seem to me that we could respond well to the
push our students are transmitting to us by teaching them the elements of
research methods from the beginning, using such broadly focused books as
Booth et al and supplementing them with on-the-fly remarks relevant to
computing in particular.
Your reactions and comments, please.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)20 7848 2784 fax: +44 (0)20 7848 5081
maui gratias agere
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