Don’t Cite So Much From Me

(Post title with apologies to The Police.)

Yes, this week the first essay, a short research essay analyzing a primary source document, is due. I’m fielding lots of questions, including a surprising number about how they can cite me. Me, me, me, me, me and my lectures! Me from the course manual I wrote for the other course they’re taking or took last year via continuing education. I’ll probably even get one or two wanting to cite from the chapters I wrote for one of the Wiley Pop Culture and History series!

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be flattered. I’m not. Mostly, I feel worried. We had an in-class workshop on how to find research resources using our library catalogue and our databases. I passed out a rubric that underlined the expectation the research would have to draw on a book, chapter or article from our library collections. I spent a fair chunk of two class sessions explaining what we’re doing and why the research part is important.

When they want to cite me, it feels little better than when they cite some random website. Both strike me as timid or lazy choices made by students who’re afraid of not finding an acceptable source or just don’t want to work at the research required. If they don’t learn to search effectively and in different ways besides using the internet search engines, they’re not going to uncover the majority of scholarship. They need to learn how to start finding other scholars’ writings, how to read those effectively and how to use this information in their essays. That’s one of the objectives of this course!

If all they do is parrot back my own words at me, how will they know if I wasn’t leading them astray? I want them to test my suggestions from our class time, not just blindly accept one of the interpretations that I’ve offered. I want them to see if they can articulate an idea and find some support for it outside of what I’ve said or what’s there in their textbook!

I guess I’ll find out on Wednesday how many of the students got those messages.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Don’t Cite So Much From Me

  1. sophylou

    I’m curious — did you have a librarian do the library resources workshop? I’m not asking because I’m a librarian and librarians rule, but because when I teach a session I usually create an online research guide (we use software called LibGuides) that includes links to the catalog, databases, ideas for search terms and strategies, etc. That way the students have something to go back to when they, you know, forget what I said, or realize suddenly that they should have paid attention, or, are just starting to make connections between the assignment and having to do research. You might be able to ask your instruction librarian (or subject librarian, if you have one) to create something like this.

    • jliedl

      Our subject librarian conducted a fabulous workshop that included a handout walking students through an example keyword brainstorming session and showing them how to apply this. You’re right that it’s great to have librarians assist in teaching these skills!

      I think the problem is a combination of lacking confidence to know “what’s important” for formulating the research question and a sense that simply appealing to my authority ought to be enough. After this assignment’s been handed in, I’ll be able to see where we might tweak matters for the next tier (when they carry out the same kind of exercise but for a longer source and requiring multiple research resources).

  2. I think they’ve probably got some citation anxiety going, which is VERY good because it will get them to cite. Better they cite your lectures than write as if they thought of those things themselves. And eventually, they’ll get to other stuff (we hope!).

    • jliedl

      That’s a good point: I know they’re nervous about doing it right. I’m just worried that by wanting to cite from me, they’re missing the key point of the assignment that they should be citing from the research resource they’ve found in our library.

      Whatever they do, it still ought to be better than the choice of many students from last year: they just found a random website off of Google Search and cited that for their research resource. That’s why I’ve reinstated the research workshop with our awesome librarian.

  3. I was going to ask about the library workshop too. So glad you are doing this. But I think this reveals just how different university is from school. They are terrified to take risks. They can’t believe that you actually want them to tell you what they think of the sources (albeit informed by their understanding of the relevant literature).

    What I used to do was very explicitly tell students that I considered them novice sociologists (my field). That what I wanted them to do for essays and other assessed work in the course was only different in proficiency from what I and my colleagues do in our own research and writing. I would repeat this at different points and actually teach them how to read what we write (i.e. journal articles) as exemplars and not just for “facts” or “authority”.

    They are still scared. And I once had a complaint to the head of department for being patronizing (he backed me up). But if you consistently say this and relate it to what you are asking them to do and what you are teaching them in the class, including pointing out that you are teaching skills as well as knowledge, it eventually sinks in.

    You are on the right track. But it might be okay to repeat yourself. I figure it’s best to err on the side of patronizing.

    • jliedl

      It’s good to hear that we’re thinking so much alike. I’ve used the phrase “you’re a historian now, too!” a couple of times. Since the class is so discussion-based, I’m getting a bit more contribution from the students in terms of their opinions but I have to work at it, every day.

      They’re scared of being wrong. They’re scared of doing it wrong. They’re scared of asking for help, because that will look stupid. I don’t remember being so scared in my university history classes, but that’s only because I went through a boatload of geology and engineering courses where I was scared in all those ways before i latched onto history. So I understand their fear and will keep trying to work at building their skills along with their confidence as the term progresses.

      Thanks for the thoughtful support!

  4. sophylou

    Have you ever read Sam Wineburg’s book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts? I read it when I first started as history librarian (um, about a year ago, so I appreciated seeing your description of what your subject librarian did, since I’m still learning!) He has some great, thoughtful stuff about what kinds of historical thinking students bring with them from K-12 — from textbooks, but also from pop culture, etc. I used to be a history instructor myself and found the insights in the chapters really thought-provoking both as a historian and as a librarian.

    • jliedl

      Oh, yes! I read Wineburg about two years ago on the recommendation of another blogger (maybe Another Damned Medievalist?) and loved it. The point about how we internalize popular culture as history was very good, too (Forrest Gump informing all these ideas about the 60s and the military, for instance).

      I’m fortunate in that I know and have even taught a number of the local high school teachers. On the downside, that sometimes means that my faults and their faults might align too closely. So this is why I really want to see the students read other researchers and consider their arguments. Tomorrow’s due day and we’ll see how brave they’ve been!