Online research projects


Online research projects

I wanted to share some work from our graduating seniors that showcases alternatives to the traditional research paper.  

First of all, I am not suggesting that we do away with research papers.  I love the essay form, and love to write it and to teach it.  But over two decades of teaching how to write research papers, I have come to realize that even among our advanced majors many are just not as interested in this genre of writing as I am, and will never write another one after they have finished their capstone course.  So in many of my courses I am developing alternatives, which still involve research and writing but lead to different outcomes.  

In one sense my efforts have totally backfired: in every case where I have offered alternatives, the students who choose them are the very ones who least need alternatives.  These are students who have already had experience writing research papers in other classes and are eager for new challenges.  I'm not sure how to adjust to this yet and would be interested in your comments.

But on to the fun part.  I'd like to share two projects.  The first is Karen Lue's online exhibition on the Chinese Nationality Room, which is the first senior honors project ever done in our department that is not a research paper.  Karen went above and beyond and also created a virtual catalog for the exhibition, which is in effect a research paper.  But the intellectual process for her took a different form because she had to go back and forth between her research findings, on the one hand, and figuring out how to turn those findings into a compelling narrative told through visual materials.  The demands of the exhibition format actually made her think differently about the research, which I found really interesting.  The result was that she was able to tell several different, but interwoven stories, in the form of exhibition rooms -- the story of Chinese exclusion in the U.S., of the Pittsburgh Chinese community, of the Chinese nationalist government and its student ambassadors, etc.  In a research paper format some of these stories might have been relegated to "background" or "context" while in the exhibition the figure-ground relationship changes and the stories hold their own weight.  (Again, just to be clear -- I'm not knocking reseach papers.  There are ways to deal with the problem of "context" in a paper, but the exhibition format, because it is a different practice, forces you to think differently.)  Anyway, Karen is still tweaking it a bit but you can see for yourself:

The other project I want to highlight is a collaborative project from my Dark Tourism research course by Kaley Kirkpatrick, Liyi Chen, and Jacob Craig.  They all worked together on the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, each studying it from the vantage point of a different type of visitor -- children, international tourists, and local residents.  After they got started we did a class session on ways in which sites of genocide or oppression have been used to try to promote healing and reconcilation.  I threw out a provocation, which was to think about how the Flight 93 Memorial could be turned into a place of reconciliation.  I assumed that the class would react viscerally to this idea as either absurd or offensive.  Much to my surprise the Flight 93 group decided to take it seriously.  They found an interactive online tool called Nearpod used primarily in secondary school education, and designed a session to explore the idea of reconcilation at the site.  Their design presupposes a mediator, someone who goes through the presentation with you in a group setting like a class -- and that is the way we experienced it when we saw their presention in the class.  They wanted to see how this tool would work as a new, more two-way model of interpretation.  As we were going through it in class, it struck me as a potentially very powerful teaching tool, and one that could be used synchronically with audiences in multiple locations who could get into an online dialogue together.



  • Undergraduate Work