More ideas

That seems to have got the ball rolling. Let’s all thank Katherine for her excellent reply to my post. Don’t let her reply slip your attention. I know everyone is busy, but please give blogging a chance. Once again, evaluation time is very near.

Here are a few more points, some of which pertain to the readings.

I’m a strong believer in established research formulas. Before I entered University of Toronto as an undergraduate I attended several tutorials offered by one of the undergraduate writing units. I remember one of the tutorials—I was there with a friend who eventually became a professor at University of Chicago. The then director of the unit introduced us to a system called the Cornell Note-Taking Method. The idea behind the Cornell method was that the student must be attentive while taking notes—that he or she must not slip into a daze or daydream while listening to a lecture / seminar. To improve comprehension and retention, the Cornell method encouraged students to extend the left margin of an A4 sheet of paper. He or she would then insert in the left margin questions pertaining to the material. At the foot of the page there would be a summary of the page’s main ideas. This site describes the method in greater detail:–take-study+worthy-lecture-notes.

Here are two methods of studying more effectively: (1) No matter how heavily you annotate your copy of a text, reserve space at the top of the page for a word that summarizes the page’s main ideas—early bibliographers / bibliophiles, like Revd Alexander Dyce and William Gladstone, used a similar technique with endpapers; (2) read in 25-minute blocks—neurological studies suggest that the human brain is optimized for short periods of attention.

I found those methods very effective in my youth. Now I write notes in small books, and I take notes with different colours of ink and highlighters: pencil = first reading; pen = second reading; highlighter (yellow) = important; highlighter (pink) = darn important, nota bene, memorize it, or at least know the concept.

And now onto my own research, and what I’ve taken from the readings …

What really amazes me about both books is the way that they attempt to reduce art to craft. Ever attend an art class only to be told how to paint in a predictable way? I have. As I mechanically learned how to produce art I thought about all the craft passed off as art at garage sales, flea markets, and even (occasionally) at one of Yorkville’s more swanky galleries. It seems to me as if the difference between good art and good research isn’t (or shouldn’t be) that great. Good research isn’t formulaic. Just as Van Gough and Picasso became perceived as geniuses by challenging social norms, the good researcher must defy his or her predecessors. Thirty years ago positivism became an institutionally accepted standard. Deconstruction and literary theory emerged as scepticism to reposition history in favour of the marginalized other. The current trends of genre, thematic, and periodization criticism—trends which underlie Knight’s models (p. 11)—became standard. And here’s how I’ve been trying to challenge these norms in my writings and research.

(1) Scepticism (Deconstruction, etc) emerged as an academic standard because it facilitated a culture of over-production in the humanities. It’s much easier to develop an extensive list of publications if the so-called scholar need only summarize the ideas of Derrida, Foucault, etc, for the first half of his or her article. Every article I write begins with an important document which repositions the meaning of the text historically. The act of discovery seems to be a methodologically appropriate technique for entering into discourse because we live in an age of unparallelled access to information through search engines and digital resources.

(2) Factuality. The main adherents to the sceptical-literary critical model try to deny the existence of a quasi-infinite body of fascinating, potentially theory-busting facts; and, thus, they direct their efforts to connecting the dots between disciplines or redefining a concept which has been “defined too narrowly or too broadly, and / or … measured inappropriately” (Knight 11). (Note here that this method often allows them simply to reframe other scholars’ research, thus freeing them to devote their time to developing their skills as rhetoricians and making them more valuable commodities as well-trained language instructors.) Some of my work, which may superficially appear as bibliography or codicology, is, in fact, intended to bust a large, gaping hole in humanities dogma—the lie that we’ve found everything.

(3) Time. In an age of near-instant access to information, words are cheap. What’s the difference between an academic and a journalist? How about between a journalist and a blogger? Or between a popular blogger and a first-time blogger? Value is often a product of time and dedication. Why, as we move towards an age of e-print, should we locate value in fast (and inherently superficial) analysis? Certainly we’re moving away from a consumer culture of low-cost, low-quality goods. Why shouldn’t we as scholars think about what makes for good research?

I hope this all makes sense.


2 thoughts on “More ideas

  1. Hi Josh,
    I just wanted to thank you for getting the conversation started. I have been struggling to contribute to the blog due to the difficulty of engaging with the material. However, this class is compelling me to consider methodology in my research and studies for the first time in my academic career. Like the majority of my peers- I take notes on my readings, take notes in lectures, and review my notes prior to assessments. But to what extent do I actually connect and reflect on what I am learning? Not as much as I would like.
    I really enjoyed your introduction and link to the Cornell- note taking method. This was the first time I had heard of it- and wondered why this wasn’t drilled into our heads at the undergraduate level?
    It suggests a six-step study system- Record, Reduce, Recite, Reflect, Review and Recapitulate. This seems like an excellent approach to not only note-taking but also to research writing. By starting research with recording facts, thoughts or keywords- you apply Knight’s “thinking through writing” strategy. By reducing, you endeavour to define and focus on the main ideas; this level of thinking has the ability to ensure you understand the notes, materials and/or research question. Reciting, which I am a huge fan of (ask to see my study cards one day), provides an opportunity to “sharpen your thinking” through hearing your words aloud. So far, the method is very practical- but reflecting is the critical engagement all notes, blog entries, essays or proposals require to be truly successful. By questioning what you’ve just learned- you push the boundaries in your research as well as your individual knowledge. The review step- which I am sure more of us should participate in (although time is often a factor), is all about guaranteeing retention of information and concepts. When reviewing my writing- I try to question every sentence and its relevance to what I am trying to communicate. The final recommendation is to recapitulate. Like a good conclusion, summarizing your notes or research proposal is an effective way of remembering why it is significant- what it is all worth.
    Needless to say- I think this 6 step-system is valuable in studying more effectively, but also applicable to research work. I think I will employ this strategy for the rest of the semester and see how it works. What do you all think? Is this a decent approach? Is it too much work for us? Or is it missing some other element?

    All the best on your SSHRC apps.–take-study+worthy-lecture-notes

  2. Kait’s definitely got a point when she asks why the devil we weren’t all taught this at the beginning of our academic lives. I noticed quite recently that I only ever hear about the Cornell method in classes and seminars that are aimed specifically at groups that might not be fully acclimatized to academic environments. I hear about it in the “Study Smarter” workshops and I heard about it in undergrad when I was attending a similar event.

    Perhaps it’s an oversight on the part of instructors? Or perhaps there’s an assumption that we’ve all either been taught effective studying and note-taking methods already, since we all made it into university. But I think the second one only holds true for a smaller percentage of students.

    It feels like the Cornell method and general information literacy/retrieval are very much alike in that they can achieve some great results for students, but faculty don’t necessarily want to take up a whole lecture with teaching it. As a result, information literacy is rather scarce in the freshmen community and everyone takes chicken-scratch notes.

    – Laura

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