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Monday, February 2, 2015

The dry stuff

I say it to students all the time, and it's interesting to experience it again myself, both in terms of the sabbatical project and in terms of the psych course: research is time consuming, repetitive, circular, and frustrating. Maybe instead of circular I should say it spirals: progress is made (but see above under "time consuming" and "frustrating") but one link or source leads to another, and another, and another.

I have just spend a profitable several hours mining the campus databases--and making a brief list of things to look for at the New York Public Library--whenever I get a chance to sit down there and prowl through their holdings. Probably the most interesting parts of today's research were the moments when I found articles I'd not seen before (or at least don't remember): some very old (so I'd think I'd have come across them in doing my dissertation but apparently not) and a few quite new--including one just published, and I mean just published: it's dated 2015.

And in the process, I suddenly remembered: I have several volumes of collected critical essays on Le Guin here on my shelves. O heavenly day! To be able to read print copies!

Still, most of what I found I've downloaded, so I have it to read, but I'll have to read it on screen: much as I'd love to print it all out, I can't feel right about the use of paper (not to mention the expense of ink), regardless of whether I print at home or from the office. But reading on screen is hard: I even have a quotation in the introduction for students about reading an electronic file versus reading something on paper:

"…evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people's attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper."

The footnote for the quotation reads as follows: "Ferris Jabr, “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens” (Scientific American, April 11, 2013. Accessed January 30, 2015. Web.) And yes, I’m aware there is more than a little irony in the fact that I’m using a web source to substantiate a point that reading on a screen is not as beneficial as reading on paper."

Yet that's what I'm going to have to do: face the "navigational difficulties" and "drain more of [my] mental resources" in reading quite a few critical essays to pre-digest them a little for students.


I'm also realizing that the research itself is pretty draining of my mental resources: I got a late start today (shoveling out the first round of snow before too much ice built up on top of it), and it's still early--but I think my brain has had about enough. I hope I can turn my attention to the reading I need to do for Wednesday's class (and yes, I did print that out), but I know I'll need a relatively lengthy brain break first. (And there will be more shoveling to be done. Yippie.)

Speaking of the class, I am enjoying the ways it reminds me what it feels like to be a student. I sent an e-mail to the professor for the first third of the class, asking generally about a paper topic idea. I'm well aware that what I want to look into is more along the lines of a dissertation than a five-page paper (more on that in a second), but I wanted to run the general idea past the professor before I got too consumed in research (see "time consuming," etc., above). I felt a bit silly sending the e-mail--so like my students!--and I recognized the response as very like something I'd say to my students in a similar situation.

But let me just return for a second to that 5-page paper. I grant you, there will also be an exam at the end of this professor's segment of the class--and that each of the other professors will have further requirements in terms of work that will be the basis of our grades--but still, this is a master's level class. Master's level. And all we need to write is five pages? And the exam is open book; if I remember correctly (and I may not), I think it will be a short answer exam, which is certainly a benefit to me. I may struggle with the "short" part, but the actual writing part suits me to the ground. Writing I can do: piece o' cake.

One last note before I sign off today: I've been setting the timer so I don't hunch at my desk for hours at a time, so I do 45 minutes sitting at the desk and 45 minutes standing (I now have a nice computer pad that not only helps keep the computer from overheating but also raises it enough that I can stand at my table and type). I still probably need someone to take a mallet to the muscles between my shoulder blades, to try to pound out some of the knots, but it does feel good to force myself to move around a bit.

All in all, this is going to be an interesting few months. So far, so good, too.

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