11. Looking back, looking forward

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Instructions for Lesson 11

1. Read this page. Take particular note of the description of the research project because it outlines what we will be doing through modules 3 and 4.

 2. Get started on the preliminary (compare/contrast) essay. Although it is not due until Lesson 12, it will take some time to find good sources and to write the essay. 


Module 1

1: Orientation  
2: Goals   

Module 2

  3: Euthyphro  
     4: The Library
 5: The Apology   
    6: Citation   
    7: Crito
    8: Phaedo  
    9: Exam Prep   
10: Plato Exam

Module 3

11: Research Project 
12: Research 101   
13: Books   
14: the Librarian   
15: the Web   
16: conferences  
17: Joy of Research 
18: Reasoning 

Module 4

19: Outlines 
20: Review the Plan:
21: Language 
22: Dr E's Grammar
23: Peer Review  
24: Hit Parade 

Module 5

25: About the Exam
26: Mock Final 
27: Exam Prep
28: Graduation 


1. A farewell to bootcamp
student attrition

I remember the first day of law school when the entire freshman class was ushered into assigned alphabetical seating in the auditorium to hear from one of the deans. He said: "Take a look at the student on your right. Now take a look at the student on your left. By the end of the semester, one of them won't be here."

I looked at Paul Groenwaggen on my right, then at Susan Hann on my left. She was much prettier than he was, but Mr. Groenwaggen went on to graduation and a job in a major law firm in New York City. Ms. Hann stopped coming to classes about half way through the first semester, and she never returned. The dean did not have to consult the oracle at Delphi to make his predictions about student attrition. Most US law schools accept roughly twice as many students as they expect to graduate. It's competitive there.

Attrition takes a heavier toll at TC3, and in this course. Be proud, if you are a graduate of Boot Camp. . . but don't be satisfied with your accomplishments. Not all those who finish Boot Camp will pass the course. And beyond English 101, and freshman year, competition becomes more challenging with each step up the ladder, in the academic world and beyond. You must prepare now for these greater challenges ahead.

 2. Practical lessons from wrestling with Plato
how to par the course

The main learning experience provided in Boot Camp came from Plato's Five Dialogues, culminating in the essay exam in Lesson 10. The primary challenge in the exercise was reading comprehension, learning enough content for the "COW." How could ordinary people like us learn to say or write anything intelligent about Plato's famously deep, at times very strange, at times rather boring Socratic dialogues?

The instructor shared several learning techniques to improve comprehension. Instead of "passive reading"--merely moving the eyes across the pages and then putting the book aside--he recommended "active reading" in which we (1) highlight key passages of the text with several colors of highlighters, (2) annotate the text by making comments or brief noted in the margins, and finally (3) review our highlights and annotations by outlining them or listing them in a brief written summary. (If you like acronyms, call this one for active reading "HAL," for highlight and annotate and list.)

Why? How does this active reading process help? A bit of brain science can explain.

The basic structure of human memory, the "modal model" first described by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968, divides our consciousness into three parts: a sensory register, short term storage, and long term storage (89). This three-part design is a filtering system that prevents us from learning too much. Filtering is essential because our heads are smaller than the universe. Filtering prevents overload. Homo sapiens, however, is a clever tool maker, so we enlist technologies to help us work around our natural limitations, including even the smallness of our brains!

The sensory register  filters out most of external reality so that we are never conscious of it. For example, we can't see the black holes or "dark matter" of the universe, though these things have greater mass than that of stars and other objects that we can see. Our vision also is confined to a narrow range of detail so that both little things and big things, as well as colors beyond infrared and ultraviolet, escape our attention altogether. In everyday language, putting a positive spin on it, we call this basic filter "perception." Mechanical devices like microscopes and telescopes are needed to overcome it. (You may need glasses to read well. Have you had your vision tested lately? College and eye-strain are positively correlated!)

What passes the screen of the sensory register receives much further filtering to enter short-term storage--or "working memory," as this area of active consciousness is called these days. Here, what we have sensed is sifted down to what we become conscious of. All of us are familiar with this filter, which we commonly call "attention." Unless attention is focused, it wanders. When we sit passively reading a book--any book--the natural temptations are very great for our attention to drift away from the page The simple acts of highlighting text and annotating page margins, while we read, are techniques to maintain attention, so that our reading experience can enter working memory. The coordinated activity of our hands and eyes helps to force our attention to the page. (Recall homunculus man.)

A third filter is associated with long-term memory. Items in working memory stick with us only for the short term, usually only a matter of a few seconds or minutes before they are crowded out by new items pouring in, both externally from the senses and internally from long-term memory. The only way to "save" the sensory items that have entered short-term memory is to move them out of the way, into long term storage where they can be recalled again later, as needed. Few items in short-term memory ever go to long-term memory because of the third level filtering system in our brains. This system screens out items that it deems unimportant for future reference. The obvious problem is that this third level filter cannot "know" what should be forgotten forever. Because of its bad guesses about our future needs, we end up remembering some perfectly useless things and forgetting many useful things.

We can gain some control over this forgetting process, however, through a technique known in cognitive science as "rehearsal." Repeatedly rehearsing a play causes stage actors to memorize their lines, even though their brains naturally are saying: "these lines aren't you--they're unimportant and should be forgotten." Students can rehearse, much as actors do. Repeatedly rehearsing for an essay or an exam or a presentation tricks the gatekeepers in long-term memory so that they let down their guard. When time comes to write the essay, take the exam, or give the presentation, those students who have rehearsed will recall what others have forgotten. The repetition of rehearsals has potentiated their neurons.

Practice makes perfect, as they say. Socrates dies easily because he has rehearsed his death for years by practicing philosophy. Phædo  becomes the leader of his own school of philosophy at Elis because he rehearses by playing Socrates with students. When Dr. G was faced with a difficult class discussion of Plato's "Phædo," he also rehearsed (recall Lesson 8). By listing the important points that might come up in discussion, outlining the dialogue, then reviewing and organizing all of his notes, he slowly gained confidence to face the class.

Learning is in part influenced by brain chemistry, genetic and physiological factors, so all students do not have exactly the same ability to become super-scholars. But learning is largely a matter of technique. Never believe that your "natural intelligence" can't be improved with training. Use the study techniques that have been specified in this course. Read, focus your attention and rehearse for essays and exams. Read actively, and you will waste much less time on words that you can't understand or remember.

Par the course:
PERCEPTION -- get the book and other course material in front of your eyes.
ATTENTION -- use your hands to focus on the words; avoid distractions.
REHEARSAL -- write summaries of what you have read; describe it to others.

3. Looking ahead at Modules 3 and 4: 
the research project

Our major piece of writing this semester is a substantial research report. How "substantial"? Document specifications include:

  • an academic or professional subject matter;

  • a narrow persuasive thesis or claim, supported by good evidence drawn from research;

  • proper in text citations of no fewer than eight published sources (more than eight sources are preferred); strong emphasis on academic and professional print sources; in fact, no more than four popular sources will be counted toward the eight required citations; the term "popular sources" includes all publications that lack citations, all broadcast media, and all internet sources except those under dot-edu or dot-org domain names that use citations.

  • use of MLA manuscript format and citation form, as described in Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual

  • use of American standard English, also as described in Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual; 

  • a word count of at least 1500 words (2000 words or more are preferred); 

The research report will be graded using the attached score sheet.

The finished report will be the end product of a serious and complete investigation into an academic or professional subject matter. Topic areas selected by students must be academically researchable--that is, researchable in an academic library and its electronic databases. The investigation of source materials will include at least fifteen sources, and the record of this research will be recorded in a research journal. (That is, the journal must have 15 sources, though the research report can have as few as 8 citations.) In the end, writers should be thoroughly knowledgeable in the subject matter of the research.

             4. How will we get there?
the steps of the research project, modules 3 & 4

The overall project provides a complete experience of the academic research process (excluding primary or experimental research). In essence, we will compile our research in Module 3 (Search for Truth) and write our report in Module 4 (Reporting). The individual steps in the project include:

A preliminary, compare/contrast essay: we will try to get started with our research investigation by writing a short comparison and contrast essay about two sources on the same general topic of our choice. In selecting these sources for our essay, we will look for differences of opinion, disagreements, contradictions or other issues that may be worthy of further exploration in the research project. This essay is assigned in today's Lesson, and it is due on Lesson 12.

a research journal: we will maintain journals to collect and summarize source information. The research journal is assigned in Lesson 12, and journal entries are due in Lessons 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. At least 15 sources should be investigated in the journal to provide plenty of background and potential content for the eventual research report. 

a research narrative essay: once we have collected the source materials in our journals, we will begin the write up by telling the story of how we did the research, what we were thinking about, and what conclusions we found. This research narrative essay is assigned in Lesson 13, and it is due in Lesson 18, at the end of Module 3. It's a first attempt to sum up. Hopefully, our reflections on the research experience will be useful as a starting point for the more formal, logically organized report that we will write in Module 4..

a research report: the initial research report is assigned in Lesson 18 and it is due in Lesson 22, in Module 4. This is not a "rough draft." Though it will be revised later, it is to be a complete report, meeting the specifications spelled out at the top of this page, a report ready to be read and analyzed by readers.

a peer review process will be conducted in Lessons 23 and 24 to critique the draft reports. All students in the class, as well as the instructor, will attempt to provide authors with constructive criticisms and ideas for improvements. This peer review simulates what happens in professional academic writing when articles and books submitted for publication must pass review from established experts in the field.

a revised report: the "finished" report will be due in Lesson 25 which concludes the research project.. .

A complete student research project is reproduced in the course documents for your information. From the module list on the course map, choose "Student Sample Research Project."

5. Choosing research questions

How can we identify a good research question to investigate in the research project. What makes an appropriate research question? At least three things (the three r's).    

It is researchable: make sure that the topic has been researched or discussed by experts, so that there is good quality, professional or academic literature available to study in the college library or its database systems. The literature on your topic needs to take you beyond the level of popular publications and help you to familiarize yourself with academic research.

It is real: any topic worth investigating must raise a significant question that we do not have an answer for--or that we have a lot of different and conflicting answers for. Aim to find the truth, not to reinforce some bias that you hold (or rather that holds you). This project is a great opportunity to explore and to learn.

It is relevant: try to find a question that holds some personal interest, so that you will be motivated to understand it.

How do we know if we've identified a good research question?  

It runs ok on search engines. Run a search of the key terms in your proposed question on ProQuest or InfoTrac. If the results come back with hundreds of hits, then you must further narrow your question so that you will be able to investigate it thoroughly. On the other hand, if your search results total two hits, or all of the hits are newspaper articles, you are going to have a problem filling up your research journal! Play with search words on the search engine until the search results turn up ten or twenty sources of seemingly good quality. Then you have probably arrived at a rough definition of a question that will work well for your research project. (Remember that you will find additional sources through other databases than the one you are using preliminarily.)

Further information on research questions is available in section 25 of Hacker's book (pages 101-102), and at her web site's research exercises

Assignment for Lesson 12: Preliminary compare/contrast essay

Select two sources of your choice on the same general topic or subject matter. Look for two good quality sources that can be contrasted because they contain differences of opinion, disagreements, contradictions or other issues that may be worthy of further investigation in your research project. You are looking for a legitimate "research question" (see Hacker section 25) that you can explore in detail in your project.

The five-point score sheet for grading this assignment will include the following points:
1. A & B (the two articles) are good quality sources of information
2. A & B are summarized fairly in the essay
3. the essay gives an accurate description of the major A/B similarities
4. the essay gives an accurate description of the major A/B differences
5. MLA citation, including works cited list, is correct.

This essay is worth up to 5 course points and is due in Lesson 12. Submit your essay as a file attachment, and be sure that the file is named with an rft ("rich text format") file extension.

Would you like a form to work from?
          see Dr. G's Compare/contrast Essay Planner.
Would you like a model to work from?
          see a student sample compare/contrast essay.



Left in young Raphael's Knight's Dream (c. 1494), thoughts are divided between study (Athena) and pleasure (Aphrodite).







About 35% of students who enroll in English 101 at TC3 pass the course. In spite of its open enrollment policy, the college maintains high standards.















Left: a pensive Athena from the time of Socrates' youth, c. 460 BCE. She is remembering those who died for her city in the Peloponnesian War.


























Left: writing class in ancient Greece.













Consider the difficulties of the online learning environment: how can you engage your hands? By working from printouts? By making notes? By cutting and pasting key points from the course into your own personal study guide? 



















Left: from an ancient Greek vase painting, a woman reads. The literacy level in ancient Greece would not be surpassed in Europe until the Renaissance.









gutchess@englishare.net                    Academic writing home page                    Gary Gutchess © 2003