Thursday, April 06, 2006

Suzanne Clark and the New Research

I didn’t really begin the “New Research” project with technology. I began with a very traditional kind of inquiry: David Frank (UO Robert D. Clark Honors College) and I were writing a book, and we were doing research on Robert D. Clark in the UO archives. We decided to offer a research class on the wonderful material we were finding, traditional enough in concept—except that it has not been so usual to have undergraduates conduct archival research.

Our classes prompted students to research the sixties at the University of Oregon—student protest, institutional change, and Civil Rights. Together with our students, we found over a thousand documents that were scanned online for all to use. (See This was starting to be a collaborative-looking effort.

At the suggestions of UO librarian Carol Hixon (Head, Metadata and Digital Services), the records of some of those archives were put on the library’s Digital Collections site (
And when the student papers were finished, we published them in the UO “Scholar’s Bank,” where Google sends the curious from all over the world to look at them. ( This is a publication process that students as well as faculty at the University of Oregon can use to make significant scholarship widely available. The technology afforded by Blackboard, the web site, Digital Collections, and Scholar’s Bank had widened the impact of our book project into a whole community. The digital revolution had come for us without our even knowing enough about the technology to have it be part of what we were teaching. We had to rely on the resources of others, but it worked.

One of the students, Sarah Koski, said to me: “We don’t need for you to teach us the new technologies; we need for you to teach us the old stuff: how to make a good argument.” I liked hearing that.

What we know about rhetoric—what we learned from Aristotle and Burke and Perlman—is still fundamental to the new situation of research. Nevertheless, there are obvious ways that the new technologies—in which I am barely competent—might not only enhance but even transform the “old stuff.” There are new opportunities for creativity and invention. And there are, we suspect, ways that new technologies and new media are introducing problems for traditional knowledge that ought to concern us—the proliferating interest in the question of “credibility” is suggestive.

What has changed about writing and research? What are the new problems? New opportunities?

Those questions prompted me to apply for an Instructional Technology Fellowship to explore what I was beginning to call “The New Research.”

The first thing I realized—that I had only vaguely thought about before—is that the new research is not about a lone scholar with a pile of books and/or a computer figuring out a new argument. It’s a moment when professors give up on the lone expert model of teaching as well, since no one knows everything and we all could use some help. In other words, the new research goes back to the old understanding of invention. Inventing an argument does not mean making it up; it’s a process that requires a discourse community.

The new research is intensely collaborative.

Perhaps Michael Bérubé, or Lisa Ede (coming as our keynote speaker), provide new models of the humanities scholar; their blogs are a kind of open door to the office even while work is in progress. (See and

I rapidly changed my course from the lone scholar model to consult with the English Department graduate students that I am calling the “New Media Group”—Raphael Raphael, Carter Soles, and Kom Kunyosying. We held a meeting—written thoughts sent simultaneously over laptops--with about 50 freshmen students of WR 121 to ask them how research overlapped with technology for them, and what they wished we would teach. (Results of that discussion will be posted soon). We decided to have a meeting of our local great minds, called the “New Research Summit.” That is what will happen May 12. We decided to have a web site and a blog leading up to our meeting, where all those attending could read and discuss before we came together. We got help from John Gage and Nicole Malkin (the Center for Teaching Writing). Thanks to Raphael (the web site) and Kom (the blog), you are now joining our collaboration.


At 9:07 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Suzanne.

I'd better update my personal blog, though--it's been too long since I've written!


At 9:06 PM, Blogger Kom Kunyosying said...

Thanks for posting this! It is a very necessary explanation of the blog and the Summit.

I would like to engage one point:

"One of the students, Sarah Koski, said to me: 'We don’t need for you to teach us the new technologies; we need for you to teach us the old stuff: how to make a good argument.' I liked hearing that."

I too am heartened by this sentiment and am sympathetic to it. However, I am striving to be wary of it. Students also say things like "We already know how to watch TV or movies . . . " Even if if they are more fluent with New Media than we are, I think we still have something to teach them in terms of interacting with it crtically. Of course that may be exactly what Sarah Koski is asking for when she wants to be taught good argument.

I would also like to note that one valuable technique that I have learned from you, Carter, and Raphael, embodied in your interaction with Sarah, is the need for asking students what they feel is important to study in New Media as I examine it with them.


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