Moving Away from the Big Paper

Moving Away from the Big Paper (in Graduate Courses)

The traditional graduate course final project assignment is the Big Paper due at the end of the term.  Sometimes a shorter paper is due mid-term; sometimes there are process drafts such as proposal, annotated bibliography, rough draft, etc., but the main focus is often an essay that could be developed for publication as an essay in a journal or anthology.

But in recent courses, when I’m teaching a methodology that is unfamiliar to students in my program, I have seen that although students do very well in the discussions and the early process steps, it was difficult to carry on all alone to the Big Paper (meaning, about 25-30 double-spaced pages).

I’ve also noticed that it can be difficult for people to try to present from a Big Paper they wrote for a graduate course: academic (humanities) presentations tend to have four people in a 90 minute panel, so each person has to present their paper in 15 minutes (sometimes a few more) to allow for questions at the end.

Seeing people try to cram a Big Paper into a short presentation is painful.

For some years, I’ve used presentations at conferences as part of my writing process:  I do a presentation or two on a paper topic I’m developing, then turn them into a paper to submit for publication.

So I started thinking:  why not have three presentation-length papers (10 manuscript pages maximum) in a semester, each one tied to a theme unit?

And why not give students the chance to dump one that doesn’t work, and revise the two remaining?

When I teach a graduate course during the mini-mester (2.5 weeks) or summer (5 week) term, I assign shorter writing assignments (a detailed proposal for minis, and a presentation-length paper for summer terms), but I’ve usually done the Big Paper in the long terms. But things can change!

In my Lord of the Rings as an Event Film course this fall, I have set up three themed units relating to the major aspect of film making that also fall under a cultural studies approach. The units are production, marketing, and reception. Students are choosing specific essays from a group I’ve assigned from each unit, doing primary research in fan communities, and developing presentation length papers on some aspect of reception of Jackson’s film during the past ten years.

An academic presentation makes an original argument, or the start of one, and it is (the best ones!) embedded in the “they say/I say” dialogic of academic discourse. But presentations are understood to be early work in developing the larger projects, and it’s possible to get feedback at the conference that will help in developing that project.

Students have a good deal of choice in terms of their three papers: they can work on the same topic, more or less, for all three, or work on three different ones entirely, or do two on the same topic, and a third one on a different topic. The main thing is that they are will be practicing the academic rhetorical moves of using academic scholarship, analyzing primary sources, and developing an original argument. They are practicing these moves in ten pages rather than twenty-thirty.

I’ll be doing something similar next spring with my Marginalized Literatures graduate course except that in that class, since we’re reading six novels, there will be a range of shorter writing assignments: reviews of novels, analysis of published reviews of novels, working bibliographies of relevant sources for a cultural studies research project, as well as informal discussions in the online course, all leading to a presentation-length paper.

In both classes, students revise the discussions and short writing assignments into two types of longer work: a selection of materials for a “Curated Collection” that will be posted online after the end of the term, and a paper or papers that students may present at an academic conference or develop further after the end of the course.

I am already seeing differences in how students are working through the assignments in the third unit this fall, and I am looking forward to seeing their final choices, and projects, next month.

Blogging Guidelines: Texas A&M University – Commerce

Important Considerations
Before you create a blog or make any entries, consider that your blog is public, and it endures. Anyone can search for your blog and find it.

  •      Consider that anything you post on your blog may have repercussions in the future. People have been refused jobs or fired from their jobs because of material they posted on their blogs.
  •      In addition to controlling what you post on your blog, you can monitor the comments that other people post. While your credibility as a blogger depends in large part on your openness to comments by others, you can set your blog so that all comments come to you for review prior to appearing on your blog. You can also block individuals who repeatedly post offensive content, try to use your blog for advertising without your permission, or just because you want to. Some bloggers post their policy directly on their blogs.
  •     For your own protection, you should never give information that identifies you–such as your full name, your address or phone number. Don’t make yourself a target to scam artists or predators.

Policies and Procedures
If you are posting a blog under the auspices of Texas A&M University – Commerce, either as a staff member, faculty member, or student, you should be fully aware of Texas A&M University – Commerce policies and procedures, including, but not limited to

Texas A&M University – Commerce Web Policy
Texas A&M University – Commerce Copyright Policy
Texas A&M University – Commerce Privacy Policy
Texas A&M University – Commerce Web Site Disclaimer

It is your responsibility to be aware of any Texas A&M University – Commerce policies and any changes in those policies that may impact any blog linked to the TAMUC Web presence.

Linking to a blog
When linking to a blog from the TAMUC Web Site, always link from a unique blog page–never from an unidentified link. Minimally, this page should inform the reader

  • That they are linking to a blog
  • That they are leaving the TAMUC Site
  • That the blog to which they are linking may not reflect the views of Texas A&M University – Commerce
  • What the blog is about

Using TAMUC graphics
Use of any Texas A&M University – Commerce Graphics, including the TAMUC Seal, Logo, or Centennial Seal, may require the permission of the University. Contact Web Services for more information.