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"Remixing Research"

posted: 10.26.09 by archived

The upcoming 2010 College Composition and Communication Conference theme is “The Remix: Revisit, Rethink, Revise, Renew” (the conference will be held March 17-20, in Louisville, Kentucky). As Gwendolyn Pough explains in the call for papers for the conference, “Whether it’s taking the old and making it fresh and new or taking the current and giving it a different spin, to remix a thing is to try and make it better.”

In this post, I want to suggest ways that we can remix student perspectives on research.  I want to talk about student research strategies, specifically online strategies—and share some ideas for how students can use unconventional research techniques to end up with excellent search results.

Steering Through Wikipedia, Instead of Steering Clear

Generally, if we don’t tell students to avoid Wikipedia as a research source, this is the first place they will go.  They may gather research that is much too general or that is not reliable.  Worse, they might plagiarize directly from Wikipedia, or write an essay that sounds like one long paraphrase of a Wikipedia article.  One way to address this is to lie down right in the lion’s den—to actually start research with Wikipedia.

A Wikipedia entry is itself a remix of all of the general knowledge about an issue.  But each Wikipedia article also includes all of the material that has been used to make this remix.  For instance, at the bottom of most lengthy Wikipedia entries, you can find a list of “Notes and References” and resources for “Further Reading.”  For instance, the entry on “Global Warming,” as of October 2009, had 180 “Notes and References.”  Students can sort through these references and divide them according to their assumed reliability and authority, and you can help them see that some sources are more useful and acceptable than others—and you can show them why.  Many “Notes and References” and resources for “Further Reading” lead students directly to very reliable full-print texts that they can access to jump-start their own research.

CQ Researcher: Reliable Reports

CQ Researcher is like Wikipedia‘s reliable cousin.  When writing a researched or argumentative paper, it is important to find a topic and then narrow this topic down so that you can create a manageable and unique focus or question. CQ Researcher is a great place to start this work.

You can access CQ Researcher online, and many libraries also have access to additional CQ Researcher content through subscription.  CQ creates elaborate reports about relevant topics like Wikipedia, except only the most reliable authorities are cited.  Information is also organized (or “remixed”) in a way that encourages students to move from the general to the specific.  Every CQ report has the following sections: Introduction; Overview; “The Issues” Subheadings; Background; Current Situation; Outlook; Pro / Con; Chronology; Short Features; Footnotes / Bibliography; Contacts; About the Author; Document Citation. The “Subheadings” on the issues surrounding the topic often make good focused research questions. The “Short Features” section usually discusses side issues to the topic at hand and can offer more potential research questions. The “Pro / Con” section presents two essays, each arguing one side of an issue.

Students can also use the “Bibliography and Footnotes” section to get started on research; many of the sources are linked to online full-text articles.

H2O Playlists

The Harvard Law School has created this site as a space where people can create and share a form of research remix, the “playlist.”  According to the site, an “H2O Playlist is a series of links to books, articles, and other materials that collectively explore an idea or set the stage for a course, discussion, or current event.”

Much like the list of references, footnotes, or the bibliography in an essay, or on a site like Wikipedia or CQ Researcher, a playlist gathers resources that can help an audience to better understand a topic.  But instead of using references in a secondary way—to support writing—the playlist puts the research first, acknowledging that we can gather links to a wide range of interesting materials, and that this gathering is itself a creative intellectual act.

Students can search through existing playlists on this site to do their own research for a paper.  For instance, a playlist on “Remix Culture” gathers key articles, but also video, music, applications, and other media.  Students might also be asked to generate their own playlists as part of a larger research assignment, or as a research assignment that stands alone.

Categories: How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage
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