But does it work in theory? Developing a generative theory for the scholarly commons

The “Scholarly Commons Working Group”

I am part of the Scholarly Commons Working Group at Force11. The goal of this working group is to “define and incubate” a “Scholarly Commons”—something we define as being a set of “principles, best practices, interfaces and standards that should govern the multidirectional flow of scholarly objects through all phases of the research process from conception to dissemination” in any discipline.

As part of this work, we have been working on developing the actual principles that can be said to… well, this is a bit of an issue, actually—govern?, describe (?), organise (?), define (?). Let’s just say, right now, “develop a set of principles that will help in some way identify and establish the Scholarly Commons in some useful, non-trivial fashion.”

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But does it work in theory? Developing a generative theory for the scholarly commons

…It is said that a learned professor of Heidelberg forbade his students the repetition of a certain experiment.

“But,” they protested, “it has always been successful.”

“Nevertheless,” he said, “its position among experiments is absolutely untenable from an intellectual point of view.”

The boys stared.

“The thing may answer very well in practise,” said the professor, “but it is not sound in theory.”

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Straw bibliography: A common error in student writing

This post describes a particular rhetorical technique that students often use in their essays that professional scholars never do: something I call the “straw bibliography.” If you learn to recognise these in your writing (and more importantly, learn how to handle them more professionally), the quality of your research will improve immensely.

What is a “straw bibliography”

“Straw bibliography” is the term I give to statements like the following, when they are unsupported by citations:

The question of the definition of medieval literature has long been a source of debate

Critics argue constantly about the role of women in literature

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Some quick notes on citation practice for undergraduates

Students seem always to get very nervous about citation… and, interestingly, perhaps through that nervousness, end up doing it in ways that professional scholars don’t.

Here are some tips that pros use for citation that undergraduates tend not to know:

Plagiarism is not a property crime.

Many students treat citations as, in essence, payment for ideas. Read the rest of this entry »


Shit humanists say: A response to “English Profs want to control the internet”

This is a response to “English Profs want to control the Internet”, by somebody who apparently doesn’t want their name front-and-centre. It is slightly modified from the comment I submitted, but since this is actual and it is in a moderation queue, I decided to post it here as well. I wouldn’t mind returning to the topic, to be honest.

I find the genre of this piece (“humanists say the darndest things”) about as tiring as the debate about tweeting conferences. It is pretty easy to make fun of ongoing conversations in any discipline you don’t normally follow, especially if, as others have pointed out, you don’t actually read the things you are linking to, let alone the broad context in which they are being written. Yesterday the Chronicle was reporting on scientists who peer review their own articles by creating fake email addresses and even entire identities. Yet I can resist the temptation to suggest that this must mean that all natural and medical sciences are one large circle jerk.

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English 1900j (Fall 2012): Blogs

In this course you are expected to maintain a blog. Postings will be required from you most weeks. And every so often you are asked to review and/or comment on your blog postings and those of your class mates.

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The unessay

The essay is a wonderful and flexible tool for engaging with a topic intellectually. It is a very free format that can be turned to discuss any topic—works of literature, of course, but also autobiography, science, entertainment, history, and government, politics, and so on. There is often something provisional about the essay (its name comes from French essai, meaning an attempt), and almost always something personal.

Unfortunately, a teaching approach that emphases the use of templates and standardised formats have turned the essay for most students into the academic equivalent on compulsory figures.

The unessay addresses this problem by asking you to throw out all the rules and concentrate on the effective communication of your ideas and interests.

Unfortunately, however, as the Wikipedia notes,

In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants and, in the humanities and social sciences, as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.

One result of this is that the essay form, which should be extremely free and flexible, is instead often presented as a static and rule-bound monster that students must master in order not to lose marks (for a vigorous defence of the flexible essay, see software developer Paul Graham’s blog). Far from an opportunity to explore intellectual passions and interests in a personal style, the essay is transformed into a formulaic method for discussing set topics in five paragraphs: the compulsory figures of academia.

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