Intellectual Life-Voyage Webs: Liberal Arts for Analysis and Integration of Knowledge
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The Liberal Arts as a Mind-Orienting Web of Inter-Related Skills and Knowledge:
Goucher College guides its curriculum based on important, time-tested assumptions about how well-educated human beings learn about the world and themselves, and how they put that knowledge to use. Those assumptions guide the general education requirements at the core of the curriculum and they tend to make courses in different disciplines "overlap" creatively with each other if students have the imagination to see it happening. New freshmen can dramatically improve their satisfaction with their courses by looking for ways their courses connect to one another, and for ways to use knowledge or skills from one course in all the others. For instance, the ability to handle evidence in a variety of forms and to do so with historical and cultural awareness would be fundamental to many types of "qualitative" humanities research, but that evidence-handling skill also connects with the ability to reason abstractly using mathematical concepts, the means by which numerical data can be used "quantitatively." For that reason, even when you're in a humanities or arts course, you still have to "do the math" if you want to be a competent scholar, and your quantitative reasoning will be hobbled if you cannot explain it clearly in logically structured, clearly written English prose. Moreover, English is not our only verbal medium. Because scholars communicate important information in languages other than English, the Modern Languages requirement becomes immediately useful, as does the study abroad requirement as a way of grounding that linguistic knowledge in historical and cultural awareness. All the courses in a liberal arts curriculum depend upon each other to produce a thoroughly educated mind.
In this section of Frontiers, we will try to develop a connected view of the classes we are working in by using web-based writing to orient ourselves to the structure of the Goucher curriculum and to look for relationships among our courses of study, this course's readings, and our class discussions. Our readings and the course theme of life-changing voyages also offer us a chance to reflect personally on the knowledge and experiences we have brought to Goucher. To make the new learning relevant to our most important goals and objectives, we must relate that learning to what we have learned in the past, especially if it challenges or even overturns that previous learning, as well as when it builds upon it. Both kinds of interaction are important to intellectual growth. If looking back on one's "wake" is important to navigating a life, looking forward is equally valuable as a guide and predictor of what we need to know, and what we can do with it. Mariners know especially to be careful to "keep an eye to weather," the direction from which storms will come, the sources of dramatic change in our lives and culture. We routinely will ask whether we can see trends from which dangers and opportunities may arise in the near or distant future.
Creating Your Life-Voyage Web:
For each of the major readings, you will create a set of web pages and hyperlinks that trace your evolving awareness of what you are doing in this section of Frontiers, in your first semester of college, and as students on a life-long voyage of intellectual development. For each reading, I will provide suggested directions your reflective thinking can take, but I encourage you to create your own relationships to the texts, and to discover issues relevant to you in what we read and discuss. I will be looking for evidence of that kind of personally committed reasoning in writing of several types: your reflective/analytical primary response to each reading, your responses to other students' writing, and your links to other sources of insight about the reading. Ordinarily, these three types of writing would occur in a well-developed printed paper on the subject, with the reflective/analytical segment taking up the body of the paper, the responses to other students occurring as references in-text or in endnotes to one's colleagues' work on the subject, and a bibliography or works cited section pointing the way to other resources for the study of the subject. If you are more comfortable with the standard academic paper, you could adopt that as a way to organize your writing, but I also encourage other ways to do so that take advantage of online writing.
The Reflective/Analytical Response: For each reading you should start with a reflective/analytical response to what the author has written, looking for patterns of thought that help you understand the author's habits of mind, values, motives, and other non-obvious insights. Think of this as a formal piece of writing you are publishing online, with full MLA document format and careful attention to the conventions of academic English prose. Each one should have a title, introduction, body, and conclusion, and format elements like capital letters, italics or underscoring, and endnotes. Do not treat this as a "book report." Assume you are writing for people who already have read the book, especially your classmates. This is the typical scholar's way of positioning her-/himself when writing. Address the experts, not the amateurs, because that is the way to become knowledgeable "insiders" in our field of study. This response can grow in revision, both as a result of my comments, as a reaction to of your later readings and work in other courses, and as the product of your reading of other students' writing and your conversations about the topic. I will give each reflective/analytical response an initial evaluation, just after you have completed its first draft (see syllabus), and a final, cumulative evaluation as my own response to your semester-long engagement with the course. For that reason, you should keep track of your revisions with brief notes indicating when a response (or other web site element) has been updated, the nature of the change, and a mention of the value it adds. That will help you write your self-evaluation at the end of the semester.
Responses to Other Frontiers Students' Writing: Because your colleagues in this section all will be working hard to make themselves experts in the study of the same readings you are working with, you should pay attention to their writing when you have explained your own initial responses to the work. Ordinarily, you should incorporate this kind of evidence along with your outside research to provide interpretive context to your immediate response to the primary source reading. Read other students' life-voyage webs, and make connections between elements of your own web and theirs by installing hyperlinks. Think of them as a serious, intellectual "MySpace." Your comments can improve the quality of their work and you also can request that they link to your site at specific places to help you build the quality of your own work. Part of your credit for this assignment will come from the density and insightfulness of your web links to the writing of other students, and to relevant, useful, or even inspiring work elsewhere on the Internet. This is a way in which you can own the course and your role in it, and relate to each other's work. It also will give you a chance to polish your research skills by using the Julia Rogers Library's numerous online scholarly source search engines like InfoTrack, EbscoHost, and JSTOR, to discover how experts can help you understand what you are reading. Sharing the results of those investigations should be one of your highest objectives for the course.
For instance, when Tania Aebi makes landfall on a very remote Pacific island, she discovers that the young islanders she welcomed aboard departed from her sloop with many objects like tape players and tools. Later, she learns that inhabitants of this and other similarly isolated places sometimes have little or no sense of private property--they assume that all of the world's goods routinely would be shared because there are so few of them around. You might be moved to look for an anthropologist's study of Pacific island culture to learn more about cultures in which communal ownership is a norm, or to look at a political scientist's or an economist's thinking about the cultural significance of private vs. communal ownership. You might also apply that research to the cultural values that appear to determine what goods you and a roommate or family member assume you share and what goods you consider privately owned. All of those additional ideas could be set up as separate web pages linked to your reflective/analytical response, perhaps as endnotes and/or references, or if you revised the document to incorporate them directly into your text, the bibliographic link could turn into an entry in a Works Cited section. Any or all of that kind of information can help you provide interpretive context for the primary source reading
Quality Control: Because these webs are both course work and published on the World Wide Web, you should consider carefully what you publish. All work is subject to the social and intellectual rules by which the Goucher community operates, including the Social and Academic Honor Codes. Obscene or offensive material usually has no place in the classroom or on class-related web sites, though study of culture sometimes stretches this rule to incredible lengths. Don't be the one to break it. I would be happy to give you advice about material you were putting on a page or linking to if you are in doubt. It is my job to help you stay out of trouble while encouraging you to take worthwhile risks. You also should take the Paraphrase-Plagiarism Risk Quiz early in September to see whether your high-school education prepared you to transform other people's ideas into your own language by paraphrase or summary, and to document the sources of those paraphrases and summaries according to MLA style (this course's style sheet), as well as quoting directly and citing sources when you do so. If you are in doubt about whether information you have discovered is someone's intellectual property, generally assume that it is until further notice. Feel free to ask me to evaluate sources you find for their accuracy, relevance, and signs of authority. Part of the course's agenda is to make you better able to be a good "'netizen" and colleague for the rest of your college career.
How Webs Will Be Evaluated:
The easiest thing to evaluate is quantity--numbers of words, pages, links, ideas. However, quality of thought and inventiveness of its coordination marks the difference between minds which merely accumulate information and minds which have learned how to create useful knowledge. One third of each web's grade will be computed objectively by counting words in your documents, numbers of pages and links or incorporated sources the web contains. The other two thirds of the grade will be evaluated subjectively by estimating the quality of the prose in all the pages you wrote, the appropriateness and creativity of the links, and the insightfulness of the overall construction of the web. In addition to whatever innovations you create for your web, I want each of you to give me a separate web of related pages for each of the six works we will read, and link those work-pages back to your home page so that I can establish a basic understanding of what you have added for each new work. Think of the structure you are building as a kind of organizational "tree" where the "subordinates" below the home page would appear as major items in a menu on the home page to help visitors navigate your thinking by topic:
In this case, the student makes the not-unreasonable assumption that because the course is organized around readings from six major authors, the web site responding to those readings might mirror that organization. Even though the readings' relationship to the whole course might seem obvious, the readings' spatial relationships to each other in this web also mean something. For instance, the top three are all older works than the bottom three they're connected to, so this web might be organized by someone thinking historically about each lower-tier work as a kind of later version of or comment upon the earlier, upper-tier work. Voltaire's overt satire on humans' religious responses to catastrophes connects to Barrett's more subdued, sympathetic depiction of science's attempt to deal with disaster. Thoreau's philosophical voyage on Walden Pond, taken in his youth, traced the evolution of his thought in ways similar to Aebi's actual solo circumnavigation of the world, which follows her development from a mixed-up Greenwich Village kid to a seasoned, thoughtful young woman who knows a great deal about the world. Warner's "swimmers," both human and crustacean, inhabit the Chesapeake Bay in much the same way that Sterling's "Mechanist" and "Shaper" versions of future humanity swim the universe with the tools of their beliefs and sciences, mechanical prostheses (i.e., "cyborgs") or genetically engineered beings (i.e., "genetically shaped"). However, another student might organize the work-webs in a completely different way. The key is how carefully and thoughtfully the web-creator explained her/his choices.