Making a "Claim with Support": The Potential Value of Using Computer-Assisted Research in the First-Year Composition Classroom
Harold William Halbert 
With the rapid expansion of computer technology over the last twenty years, educators at all levels of the educational process have had to face the growing question of the role of computers in the classroom. This is particularly true for those of us who teach writing. This paper offers some reflections on how I have tried to use the capabilities of my computer classroom to teach first-year composition at Lehigh University and to reorient my students' attitudes about the role of research in the writing process. While the use of computer technology underlies most of the key points in this paper, the emphasis is on my belief that colleges and universities need to make research a part of their students' general writing processes and not a specialized activity that occurs only at the specific request of a professor, teacher, or instructor. I see computer-assisted research as a means to this end, not an end in and of itself.

This paper addresses a number of different audiences: the instructors and professors at Lehigh University who teach composition under the same set of guidelines that I do, the members of the Writing Committee that write these guidelines, and anyone who teaches writing who has questions about either computers or the role of research in the composition classroom. With these audiences in mind, I have broken up the paper into distinct sections that readers can choose to jump back and forth among if they so desire. This paper was written to be a linear document, but it does not have to be read that way to be useful. Readers can choose from the following sections:
Why (Computer-Assisted) Research in the First Place? Analysis and Discussion of this Experience 
Background Theory Closing Comments
Claims for Computers in the Composition Classroom Notes
General Methodology for Encouraging Research Works Cited
Research Materials All First-Year Students Should Know About Appendixes
Case Study: My ESL Composition Class Research Unit
My hope is that those of you who skip around will find enough value in the pragmatic sections to go back and look at the more theoretical sections to see from where the suggestions I make came. I invite you to send me any questions or comments you may have about these ideas by e-mailing me at

Why (Computer-Assisted) Research in the First Place? back to introduction

Despite the fact that at the heart of Lehigh University's First-Year Writing Program is the belief that writers need to make "a claim with support" ("Informing Assumptions" 6), there is not a lot of emphasis in the program on the role of researching information in the writing process. A major reason for this situation is that the program defines itself as working against the non- reflective inquiry of traditional high school research paper assignments that generally result in fact-laden papers that simply regurgitate the claims made by traditional authority figures.For Lehigh, the mechanical nature of traditional student research fails to promote critical thinking, and the program uses this assumption as the "starting point" against which it defines its goals for First-Year Writing:

Prior to college, students tend to have used reading and writing for retrieving and reporting information. The typical high-school research paper is a classic example: Students gather enough information about a topic to fill up the required number of pages (and to cite the requisite number of sources). What's often lacking is a sense that the student is grappling with a real question or making a claim that advances the conversation about a difficult or contested problem; the student simply is not thinking critically. At its best, the college experience will be different: Students will no longer be rewarded simply for amassing information from sources; rather, they will be expected to work with a body of information interpreting, analyzing, critiquing, and extrapolating so that their papers demonstrate engagement with a topic and thoughtful ideas about key issues. ("Informing Assumptions" 4)
This statement defines Lehigh's writing program as a site of intense academic inquiry where students learn how to do more than simply gather facts; they actively engage a "body of information" by questioning everything about the material so as to construct their own way of knowing the topic under discussion. This goal is exactly why colleges and universities exist, and the Lehigh program does an excellent job of pushing its students to undertake this sort of inquiry. Yet by using high school research papers as an example of ineffective projects in college-level writing, this statement unfortunately suggests that "research" as a whole interferes with our first- year students' ability to interpret, analyze, critique, and extrapolate about a given issue despite the fact that there is nothing in the policy statement to preclude an instructor from pursuing a research-based course. As a result, most writing instructors at Lehigh have urged students to support the claims in their papers with their personal experiences and close readings of assigned texts, all but abandoning research as a part of process pedagogy.

As an instructor in the program for the last three years, I never gave the absence of research issues much thought until a student of mine forced me to consider the issue. In the fall of 1996, I designed a topic on "Heroes" for my students to write on, a common theme in Lehigh first semester writing courses. A particularly resistant student refused to come up with a topic until I pressed him to use his negative attitude about the entire heroism issue to debunk a culturally accepted hero. Still resistant, the student asked if he could write about "That girl in the Olympics who vaulted with the hurt foot," referring to Kerri Strug, whose name I supplied to him. Sensing that he did not know much about the incident, I suggested that since we were in a computer classroom, instead of freewriting on his potential topic, he might try to find out a few facts about Strug and her vault on the World Wide Web. Having observed him numerous times using the computers before class to surf the Web, my hope was that he would see my invitation to use the computer as a fun way to get into his topic. Imagine my surprise when he looked up at me and said, "Hey now, this isn't a research paper, is it?" I was at a complete loss for words.

In hindsight, the student's response should not have shocked me as much as it did. As Richard L. Larson has pointed out in his seminal essay, "The 'Research Paper' in the Writing Course: A Non-Form of Writing," students are taught in high school to view the act of research as a monumental task meant to produce encyclopedia-like texts rather than as a legitimate potential expectation of any paper (363). For many students, traditional "research" is an end in and of itself, not a means of engaging oneself with an issue and forming a unique claim. It is an often painful end at that, thanks to the rigid demands that students use index cards for each separate fact, make multiple trips to the library, use apparently arbitrary documentation guidelines that are strictly enforced, and all of the other frustrating experiences associated with traditional research methods. To me, the irony of my student's shock that he might have to actually research Kerri Strug was that he was sitting less than six inches from a computer linked into the World Wide Web, the veritable information super-highway that everyone from IBM to Al Gore says makes research a fun and painless way to learn more about virtually any subject. Yet my student could not see the use of research as a natural part of the writing process used in the absence of personal experience or when an instructor does not present a carefully selected and prejudged text to use as support, and, in many ways, his reaction was my fault because I had never once suggested that research should be viewed any other way.

Ultimately, the student did do some superficial research that resulted in a stale retelling of Strug's painful second vault that did little to support his claim that Strug was a victim of the pressure to win rather than a hero (a claim I encountered many times in the popular press immediately after the Olympics, but my student never saw in his own research), and, as a result, his paper did not hold together. In large part, I feel comfortable laying the responsibility for the paper's shortcomings on the student in question, but, in some way, part of the responsibility lays with both myself and the Lehigh First-Year Writing Program for not reintroducing research to him as a part of the writing process instead of as the Herculean task the high schools make it out to be in their current-traditional approaches. As a result, I have come to believe that we have a responsibility to help reorient the beliefs our students have about research when they come to Lehigh, and I believe that integrating research through the use of computers can go a long way towards helping them to make research a natural part of their writing process throughout their Lehigh careers and their lives.


Background Theory: back to introduction

In order to understand the potential I see in using computer-assisted research as a part of the writing process, we need to first understand what the problems are with traditional research methods as they are taught as part of the "research paper" process. One of the bigger problems is that students usually come to college with the attitude that "research" is a separate activity from writing and that it is only called for when the assignment specifically uses the word "research" in the topic description. To Richard L. Larson, students have every right to believe this idea because of how research is taught to them:

by teaching the generic "research paper" as a separate activity, instructors in writing signal to their students that there is a kind of writing that incorporates the results of research, and there are (by implication) many kinds of writing that do not and need not do so. "Research," students are allowed to infer, is a specialized activity that one engages in during a special course, or late in a regular semester or year, but that one does not ordinarily need to be concerned about and can indeed, for the most part, forget about. Designating the "research paper" as a separate project therefore seems to me to work against the purposes for which we allegedly teach the research paper: to help students familiarize themselves with ways of gathering, interpreting, drawing upon, and acknowledging data from outside themselves in their writing. (364-65)
The current-traditional methods used in high schools and in colleges that teach a separate unit on the "research paper" have divorced research from the general writing process of most students. As a result, students do not routinely see a need to do research in order to support their claims, which in turn leaves them at a disadvantage because they generally do not have the opportunity to wrestle with a variety of different perspectives on a given issue in order to come up with their own perspective. This attitude is often reinforced by the average student's intense dislike of what Kathleen McCormick calls the "painstakingly detailed mechanical directions" students associate with the process of discovering sources, going to the library to get sources, and then reading and evaluating sources ("Using Cultural Theory" 212). Unless we introduce the idea that research can take place without it necessarily being required by the instructor, the bulk of our students will continue to rely on their preconditioned belief that research is not a part of the normal writing process in order to avoid having to do what they conceive of as the difficult task of researching information and opinion. While it is possible to rewrite students' views on research without introducing computers to them, if we can show students that the effort required for research is decreased with the use of computers, we can take the first step towards making research a part of their every day writing processes.

While this rejection of research as a normal part of writing is a major problem with the traditional way in which research is taught, perhaps an even more troubling aspect is how traditional methods of research instruction program students to accept "unbiased" or "authoritative" perspectives over others, limiting our students' ability to interpret the ideological underpinnings of key sources and therefore the ideological impact this acceptance has on their own ideological position. Kathleen McCormick's "Using Cultural Theory to Critique and Reconceptualize the Research Paper" offers a detailed analysis of how the majority of textbooks dealing with research techniques, even those trying to avoid current-traditional pedagogy, often lead students to value those sources that fit into the dominant ideology of a society.2 For McCormick, the typical composition textbook "reveal[s] (while trying to conceal) the fact that the research paper functions almost exclusively as a conservative force, requiring by its very form that students believe in the general coherence of the self, their topic, history, and the current culture" (212). In other words, while traditional research theoretically asks students to study the different commentaries about an issue, by driving students to prefer certain types of commentaries over others, students seldom can find room to step outside of the ideological position of the ideological state apparatuses (ISAs) the educational process has programed them to accept. Even those textbooks that acknowledge that all writings have some bias in them still encourage students to believe in what McCormick calls the "residual objectivism" that accepts the idea that there are writers who are "both knowledgeable and without bias whose opinions tend to carry the most weight" (214, 215). Thus, while most current textbooks openly acknowledge that all writing is situated in a historical and ideological position, they immediately subvert this acknowledgment by continuing to value those texts that do not on the surface announce their bias, but instead employ the language and conventions of "objectivity" that Americans have come to favor as part of their scientific/atomistic view of the world. Traditional research then invites students to form their own opinions only to require students to write within the limitations of one particular ideological perspective, making the task of evaluating the ideology of an "acceptable" authority all but impossible and therefore difficult to avoid including in their own opinion formation.3

McCormick's solution to the ideological trap of traditional research is to reteach reading to students so that they can see it as "a complex interaction of the reader, the text, and the larger literary and general ideology" (222), but one problem that she does not address is how the typical print-based text that our students uncover in their research comes in a form that obscures its ideological context. As a part of a periodical, a text is usually situated with other texts that share similar ideological views, making an individual article part of the overall "common sense" of the periodical that is often difficult for first-year writers to recognize. A stand-alone text, such as a photocopied handout or a novel, hides its ideology by virtue of not being contrasted against anything else except the text's own conscious references to ideological markers that students may or may not understand. Even texts included in an anthology of conflicting ideological perspectives can obscure other ideological perspectives because the often black/white contrasts of these selections serve to reveal not the ideology inherent in the texts but rather the personal ideology of the editors of the anthology. 4 Given these additional factors that obscure the ideology of a given text, students face an often overwhelming task when we ask them to examine the ideological implications of that text, even when we instruct them to use other texts that their research (with hope) uncovers as a contrasting ideological position to help them see the ideology of the first text. As a result, both students and instructors feel frustrated when we ask students to evaluate their sources not on the basis of how "biased" or "unbiased" a source is, but rather on each text's individual ideological perspective. The ideological implications that instructors feel are plain as day (after having spent years immersed in an academic culture that operates on this principle) often remain invisible to students despite all of the advice we give them to question the assumptions that make a particular epistemic the "common sense" of a text.

As an alternative, I contend that the use of computers in conjunction with the World Wide Web can help students recognize the ideological positions of texts more easily because the interactive nature of the Web helps make the ideology of both the writers and readers of cyberspace texts more visible. When students look for a document on the Web, the ideology of a particular text is in constant contrast with other ideologically positioned texts that deal with the same issue because search engines like Yahoo or AltaVista will display hundreds of documents that contain different perspectives on the topic being researched. Thus, students wishing to find out information on a topic like "gay marriage" will be exposed to a broad spectrum of ideological positions dealing with that issue by being shown texts that support gay marriages or reject them categorically, conflicting texts that wrestle with the many meanings of "family values," texts that offer opinions on the morality of homosexuality in general, and an almost endless succession of other different ideological positions our society and the rest of the world have on the issue. As they explore these sources, they will likewise come across conflicting texts within each document since many Web-based writings invite comments from readers that are displayed alongside the original text. When such responses are present, the author of the original text will often in turn respond to the responses, allowing our students to witness readers and writers trying to uncover each other's ideological positions. In other words, students can gain not only a broader sense of the range of ideological positions one might take on a given subject, they can also witness a visible method of unveiling ideological positions that can help students recognize ideological positions in other texts on their own.

Michael Day's Web text, "Tapping the Living Database," suggests that similar benefits can be found by having students "lurk" on the asynchronous discussions of USENET groups devoted to discussing particular issues. By witnessing the exchanges between individuals from all over the world who are an active part of the real-world discussion on a particular issue, students can observe and absorb much of the discourse conventions and analytical strategies that govern the debate because they see it modeled before them (1).

I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that we teach our students that the Web and USENET groups are replacing libraries as a place for research; any effort to include research in a composition classroom that ignores the library fails to help students by suggesting by omission that the library is no longer the heart and soul of academic research or that the Internet is a widely accepted source of information in academic circles at this point in history. Students need to be made aware that the unregulated nature of the Internet is viewed as suspect by many people, both inside and outside academic circles, and that many people post deliberately inaccurate information. Yet despite these drawbacks, I believe that we have four compelling reasons for introducing Internet-based research to our students. First, we need to make research a normal part of the writing process so our students will not continue to view research as a separate and painful activity that is not part of the construction of knowledge that writing entails. Second, we can help make library research seem easier by teaching them how to find out about the existence of library resources such as articles or books related to their topics in the convenience of their homes or a computer lab. Third, we need to show them that because the Internet is unregulated, using Internet sources carries with it the risk of using sources that are simply incorrect or not acceptable in certain academic circles while at the same time offering a space for students to open up the curriculum by finding radically non-academic perspectives on issues that may help them to step outside of the limitations of ideological state apparatuses and engage in a whole new level of critical thinking. Fourth, as the Lehigh Writing Program's policy statement argues, students "can profit from being shown" an intellectual activity in action (12), and by exposing students to the interactive dialogue of the Internet, we let the real-world debates that are taking place in cyberspace demonstrate for our students how individuals interpret, analyze, critique, and extrapolate each other's arguments, making the mysterious process of "evaluating sources" visible. These activities are exactly what we want our students to gain from their time in First-Year Writing, and I believe that the computer classroom gives us the opportunity to help our students with these activities even more effectively than we already have.

Claims for Computers in the Composition Classroom: back to introduction

Given the above theoretical issues, I see a number of advantages in reintroducing our students to research and composition through the use of computers:

(1) Computers can help students overcome the high school view of research as a separate task divorced from their general writing processes

By demonstrating how computers can simplify the research process and by introducing computer-based research from day one of a writing course, we can help our first-year students to see that research can and should be a reasonable expectation for potentially any writing assignment, regardless of if the instructor specifically asks for it or not. Research could thus become a normal part of the writing process.

(2) World Wide Web-based research can help make visible to students the methods individuals use to uncover the ideological positions of both the text and readers of texts.

By exposing students to the interactive nature of the Web, students can discover that a single subject can inspire hundreds of different ideological positions by running a search via one of the many search engines available for surfing the Web and seeing how many different "hits" their search produces, giving students "a way of listening in on public conversations about consequential issues" in a way traditional classrooms have ignored ("Policy Statement" 2). Unlike traditional print-based texts, which can hide their ideological position by the lack of a surrounding debate or by hiding among other texts with a similar ideology that makes their position seem like "common sense," web-based documents cannot as easily hide their ideology because students uncover these texts only by weeding through other documents with different ideological positions.

Likewise, the "comments" sections of these Internet documents can help students see how writers and readers both try to uncover and hide their ideological positions by showing them a real-world debate between people of differing ideologies. By watching a debate unfold, students can learn to see how readers try to situate the writer in an ideological position, while the writer's responses help flesh out his or her position while at the same time unwrapping the ideology of the responding reader. Just seeing this process can help students demystify the process of situating a text in an ideological position.

(3) Observation of USENET discussion groups can help students to see how a particular discourse community operates within an ideological framework.

By having students lurk on a USENET discussion board or a LISTSERV discussion group as Michael Day suggests, students can observe (and even participate in) the way a particular discourse community defines the ideological issues of a topic of discussion by demonstrating the terminology of the debate, the methods of building authority, the way arguments are discredited, and what issues are emphasized and ignored. As outsiders to this ideological framework, students may begin to see how ideologies govern the way people write about a particular issue as a debate unfolds, which in turn helps them to begin to examine the ideological frameworks of other texts and (perhaps) in themselves.

(4) By rewriting our students' attitudes about research and by giving them the tools to uncover the ideological implications of a text, we give our students room to pursue topics and ideas that might not traditionally fall within the scope of a non-computer-based class.

Once students see that research can be liberating, and once they come to recognize the ideological underpinnings of the documents their research uncovers, our students will be in a position to step not only outside of the limits imposed by traditional ISAs, but also our own personal ideological apparatuses (PIAs) as well, giving them the freedom to consider topics or perspectives that our own personally selected reading lists and topic designs would normally deny them. While students may still opt to follow our ideological leads as instructors, by giving them a belief in the value of independent research and the ability to evaluate such research, those students who want to move beyond the confines of the class readings can do so if they want. By making research a normal part of the writing process, we can "involve students in the issues and ideas presented" in our classes in a whole new way ("Policy Statement" 2), a way that allows them to pursue their own interests just as we do in our own research.

(5) The use of research in a computer-based composition classroom introduces new possibilities for collaborative learning by allowing students to use a class conference board to engage in a written asynchronous debate about the ideological position of sources and each other.

As Bartholomae and Petrosky say in their book, Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts, an effective classroom allows a class to build up its own repertoire of terms, ideas, background information, and ideological perspectives from their own research, just as any other discourse community does (31). The instructor has a responsibility to have students share their research findings so that other students can exchange ideas and perspectives on their sources and help each other unravel the ideology of these sources and each other by engaging in the same type of written debate they have witnessed and taken part in on the Web. Thus, a computer conference board gives students a space they can use to engage in such a debate as they seek to build a consensus that may never come about on an issue, combining the benefits of classroom discussion with a written exchange. The written attempts at consensus building will help students to accomplish what John Trimbur sees as the goal of collaborative learning: "to generate differences, to identify the systems of authority that organize these differences, and to transform these relations of power that determine who may speak and what counts as a meaningful statement" (603). By responding to each other's statements about a given source, students can help to make visible their own ideological positions.

In addition, by having students report back to the class via a computer conference board, all students can have access to each other's research, and all students can engage in a written examination of these sources, much like writers and readers do on the Web already.

(6) Working with computer-based research can help both our students and the academy as a whole to help define how people should use the Internet.

Since many of our students already use the Internet for personal entertainment, many of them feel they already know how to use it for their research. Unfortunately, many of them are unaware of the limitations of Web resources: they do not know that much of the material written before the 1980s simply is not available on the Internet because it has never been entered into a form that could be read in cyberspace. As a result, students are often unaware of these texts or that they should be looking for them. We need to make them aware of this potential hole in their research methodologies.

As instructors, we also need to start providing some sense of what is acceptable discourse in cyberspace before the already rapidly developing cyberspace discourse conventions get beyond anything that the academy might be able to influence. Students are picking up cyberspace discourse conventions on their own and trying to bring them into the classroom. As a result, we see students ignoring the conventions of standard written English more than ever before, the use of icons instead of words, and even a belief that cutting and pasting text off the Internet into a paper is not plagiarism. If we as a group disapprove of these new conventions, we have an obligation to step in and try to influence how our students write in the cyber age.

Finally, we have a responsibility to prepare both our students and our discipline for the rise of computer-based research. Given the funding of computer pedagogy and equipment donations by corporations that want to addict people to computers, the expectations of employers that we will produce students who can use these computers, the commitment made by the United States government to promote the use of the Internet, and even the pressure from pro-computer activists within the academy, to ignore computers would be a disservice to our students and ourselves. Whether we like it or not, the cyber age looms, and we simply cannot ignore it.

General Methodology for Encouraging Research: back to introduction

For the instructor who wishes to make computer-assisted research a part of his or her pedagogy, I offer the following broad approaches to integrating research into the standard Lehigh composition course. As you consider these suggestions, remember that should you choose to make research a part of your classroom, more than likely your students will not be the only ones undergoing a difficult intellectual shift. Many of us have little or no experience teaching research, and those of us that do tend to rely on the traditional high school model of research instruction. Be honest with yourself about the likelihood that you will fall back on the old model when difficulties arise and try to recognize when it is happening. To help prevent that, consider the following:

(1) Plan your semester around a theme that allows students to draw from previous assignments and research.

A sequence of assignments that expands the scope of a broad topic does more than simply give students an opportunity to recursively learn writing strategies; it also allows students to fall back on previously encountered materials and reevaluate it in the context of new information. Thus, the assigned readings and any additional research becomes part of a pool of knowledge that is refined over the course of the semester, not just a single unit, which in turn will allow individual students and the class as a whole to hold onto material and constantly return to and reexamine the ideas and texts they have found and produced based on that research.

(2) Introduce research methods at a slower pace than is usually done under the high school model of research instruction.

By making research a semester-long project where one or two techniques are used in a unit rather than spending a week doing nothing but "this is how to do research," we will not overwhelm our students. We will also make research seem like an integral part of the writing process of any paper by making it a part of every paper in our course.

(3) Introduce traditional research methods along side of computer-based methods.

This pairing will help students to see the advantages and disadvantages of both traditional library research and Internet-based research, particularly the limitations of the computer that they want to ignore.

(4) Introduce research as an alternative view of the class' subject matter.

This method will broaden the scope of inquiry for the teacher and give students some agency in dealing with the topic by not limiting it to the teacher-approved (and hence "legitimized") perspectives from the shared readings.

(5) Have students share research with the class on a class computer conference board.

By allowing students to see what their fellow classmates have discovered, they can broaden their view of the topic. One student may see another student's summary of a source and decide to pursue an interest in that source or its subject. Likewise, a computer conference board can become a site for multiple perspectives where students can present different opinions on similar issues that they choose to investigate, or they can offer alternative views on the same source that help the class to see how multiple opinions about the same source can be produced. In theory, their desire to discuss the ideology behind resources they bring to the table should be more intense because they will not be discussing (and potentially disagreeing) with the ideology of the readings the teacher has (in their eyes) deemed "good" by virtue of making them read it.

(6) Ask them to consider including these ideas in their papers.

By giving them room to choose not to use sources, they can come to feel that research is not just another painful mechanical task that has to be done to make the instructor happy. Research becomes essential to their claim by their own choice.


Research Materials that All Lehigh First-Year Students Should Know About back to introduction

As instructors, we have spent a great deal of our professional lives locating and evaluating information we need for our own research. Our students fully expect to have to do their own research as well, but unfortunately, they often do not know the resources available to them. Now, with the arrival of Internet-based research, many instructors also find themselves unaware of some of the excellent resources available through the Internet and the library. What follows is a list of resources I use in my own research and have started to show my students. It is by no means comprehensive, but it is a great place to start if you or your students are not sure what resources are available here at Lehigh.

(1) The Virtual Library on Lehigh's Home Page.(

Lehigh's Information Resources Program has put a lot of effort into getting as much library material available on-line as possible, culminating in the Virtual Library. This on-line research resource can be accessed from Lehigh's Home Page. ( by clicking on the "Information Resources" button on the left and then clicking on "Virtual Library." Resources available include the ASA card catalogue for Lehigh (described below), an on-line version of the Encyclopedia Britannica (, a links page of subject-oriented Web servers that gives access to hundreds of discipline specific Internet resources (described below), and links to dozens of Article Indexes and Databases (described below).

(2) The "Library" Screen on the LUNA Main Menu:

For users more comfortable with the Access program's LUNA Main Menu because of their experiences with e-mail, this resource may be one of the most useful. To get to the Library screen, at the main menu type "Info" and then "Library" or simply type "libr" at the main menu to go directly to the library screen. From here you can access the library card catalogue (ASA), use the card catalogues of several major and local universities (Cats), gain access to a variety of databases like Infotrac, Lexis-Nexis, or Sitesearch, and make requests for materials not available in our library ("requests"and "ILL").

(3) The ASA On-Line Library Catalogue. (

Lehigh no longer uses a traditional card catalogue. Instead, the collection can be searched on-line through either the LUNA (Access) Main Menu or through the Virtual Library on Lehigh's Home Page. To access the card catalogue through LUNA, follow this path through the menus: "info," "library," "ASA" (or simply type "ASA" at the main menu). To access the card catalogue through the Web, go to Lehigh's Home Page, click on "Information Resources," click on "Virtual Library," and then click on "ASA" (or go direct: In addition to the simple search features, students need to be taught to read the information they are shown so that they realize the computer will tell them the call number of the text, which library it is in, what floor it is on, and its availability.

(4) Article Indexes and Databases (

This section of the Virtual Library is a gold mine for researchers because it offers access to search sixty or more databases on  everything from literature to science.  Of interest to us are the MLA database, ERIC, Books in Print, Uncover, LEXIS-NEXIS, and a host of  other databases that allow us to locate journal articles through a simple search.

(5) LEXIS-NEXIS Full Text Information Retrieval:

This service offers full text retrieval of articles from hundreds of newspapers, journals, periodicals, annual reports, broadcast transcripts, and wire services on topics covering law, business, and general news. Researchers can locate articles and either read the texts on-line or make copies of them and store them electronically in their e-mail accounts to be printed later.  Two versions of LEXIS-NEXIS are available to anyone with a valid Lehigh network ID: the web version and the Telnet version available through the Access program.  The web version is available through the Article Indexes and Databases menu and offers an easy-to-use search engine that will bring up either a detailed abstract of an article or the full text of the article.  The Telnet version is much more difficult to use, but it gives a full-text version of every hit your search may produce.  Because this service is expensive for Lehigh to provide, only five researchers from the Lehigh community can access Telnet version of LEXIS-NEXIS at any one time. A guide to both versions of LEXIS-NEXIS is available from the Center for Writing, Math, and Study Skills.

(6) Electronic Article Services (

This section of the Virtual Library offers links to three major sources of articles for researchers.  Periodical Abstracts is available through the site and offers a searchable database of many magazines and newspapers from across the globe.  Articles can be retrieved in abstract or full-text form.   This could be a great alternative to Lexis-Nexis.  Infotrac offers a database that runs from 1980 - 1993 on subjects ranging from Astronomy, Religion, Law, History, Psychology,  Humanities, Current Events, Sociology, Communications and the General Sciences.  The service offers mostly abstracts, but some articles are available.

(7) Print Indexes of Periodicals and Newspapers:

While Lexis-Nexis and Sitesearch both offer researchers a fast and easy way to locate relevant documents, unfortunately much of material published before the 1960s and 1970s simply is not catalogued on-line at this point. As a result, researchers who depend solely on computer assisted research can miss valuable sources of information simply because the resources are not on-line yet. Both of Lehigh's libraries still maintain large print reference sections that offer hundreds of indexes to periodicals, newspapers, and other resources. Good general guides include the Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature (call number 050 R286), located alphabetically in the Index section of the Resource area of Linderman Library, and the New York Times Index(call number 071 N56ti), located alphabetically in the Index section of the Resource area of Fairchild-Martindale Library.

(8) World Wide Web Search Engines:

Searching the World Wide Web for relevant sites of information can be one of the most helpful and most frustrating tasks for researchers because of the incredible volume of material available on the Web. To find information, researchers log into a Web browser (Lehigh uses Netscape) and then use search engines like Yahoo or Excite to type in the search parameters for their information request. From Netscape, most users click on the "Net Search" button, which takes users to one of five search engines, or they can enter the specific URL of a favorite search engine (such as or Since a poorly worded search can elicit well over 1,000 documents vaguely related to the search words, there are huge benefits to learning the search techniques for one or two search engines so as to be able to quickly narrow down a search for sites with relevant content. A handout on search engines giving basic search instructions for Yahoo and Excite can be found in the appendix.  Lehigh's Information Resources team has also put together a search engine comparison page that gives readers an idea of the pros and cons of the more popular web search engines in use.

(9) Electronic Journals and Texts

This section of the Virtual Library offers researchers several options.  The Electronic Texts section offers access to the Chadwyck-Healey's Literature On-Line Database, which provides a search engine for full-text web versions of literary works, and the Congressional Compass, which allows researchers to look up laws, pending legislation, or particular committeees.  The Electronic Journals section gives access to fifty or more on-line journals ranging from the American Journal of Phiology to the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, each offering full-text copies of articles.

(10) Subject-Oriented Web Servers (links page): (

The IR staff at Lehigh has put together an incredible links page that allows researchers to rapidly locate Web sites devoted to discipline-specific topics. These sites have all been screened to make sure they are of serious academic interest. When accessing this page through the Virtual Library, researchers can choose from broad areas of interest or specific sub-areas of interest that appear simultaneously on the screen. Thus, researchers might choose "Humanities" and move to a more detailed list of choices, or they might select a sub-topic from the following list that appears beneath the "Humanities" button: "General," "Composition & Writing," "Fine Arts & Architecture," "History & Area Studies," "Literature," or "Theater & Performing Arts Religious Studies." After this initial screening process, should a researcher select "Composition and Writing," he or she would be shown a screen with links to the following sites: the "Computer Writing & Research Lab", the "Gale Database of Publications and Broadcast Media 1996" site, the "Purdue Online Writing Lab" (OWL), and the "Undergraduate Writing Center." Each link is followed by a short summary that indicates the intended audience of the site, the content of the site, and who maintains the site resources, giving researchers a preview of the resource before actually linking to that page. This page is a nice resource that will only get better as more links are added.

(11) USENET and LISTSERV discussion groups:

One of the most exciting features of the Internet are the existence of USENET and LISTSERV discussion groups. USENET groups are groups that post messages to a computer bulletin board about a shared topic of interest. Lehigh allows access to these groups, and anyone with a Lehigh e-mail account can access them through LUNA by typing "Index" at the main menu. Interested parties will have to scroll down through a list of every Lehigh command that can be entered at the LUNA menu before reaching the extensive list of over 2,000 USENET groups to which Lehigh gives access. The USENET is organized so that groups generally are named according to one of the following hierarchies (some of the groups indicated by these prefixes are not available at Lehigh):

alt: An anarchic collection of serious and silly subjects
bionet: Topics interesting to biologists
bit: Redistributions of popular BitNet LISTSERV mailing lists
biz: Business products and services
clarinet: Online daily newspaper, from wire services (available for a fee)
comp: Computer hardware, software, systems, languages, and theories
gnu: The GNU project of the Free Software Foundation
hepnet: High-energy physics research
humanities: Literature, fine arts, and other humanities
info: A collection of serious gatewayed mailing lists
k12: K-12 (primary and secondary) education
misc: Other topics, such as employment, children, and consumer issues
news: The Usenet news network and news software
relcom: Russian-language newsgroups
rec: Recreational topics - sports, hobbies, music, games, etc.
soc: Social issues, socializing, and various cultures
sci: Pure and applied sciences
talk: Discussion and debate of unresolved issues
vmsnet: Topics of interest to VAX/VMS users
Using this list, a researcher interested in what is being said on-line about sociology would do well to look at the index of USENET topics, scroll down to the "soc" prefix area and look at what's available. Researchers interested in "African Americans" will find a "soc.culture.african" group, a "soc.culture.african.american" group, and a "soc.culture.african.american.moderated" group to choose from, depending on what the research is about. Many people simply lurk on USENET groups to learn the hot issues, the discourse conventions of a related topic, or just for fun. Another option for finding USENET groups would be to consult the "FAQ Finder" (, which is a search engine for the "Frequently Asked Questions" of a various USENET groups that can help you identify groups discussing issues related to a research topic. Another option is the "Directory of Scholarly and Professional E-Conferences" (, which offers a guide to both USENET and LISTSERV groups frequented by experts in a given field.

LISTSERV groups operate similarly to USENET groups, but the major difference is that instead of having one place where information is posted on the Internet, every person who subscribes to the list receives an e-mail of every person's post. LISTSERV discussion groups are often more lively and informal because they more closely resemble correspondence than USENET postings, but the information in these discussions is usually quite helpful to researchers because these groups are so specialized. To find a LISTSERV group, try typing in LISTSERV and a general topic in a Web search engine and see what comes up. Another option is to visit the Lizet Web site (, a page that describes 71,618 LISTSERV discussion groups and how to subscribe to them.

12.  Inter-Library Loan

One of the more common complaints students have is that "Lehigh doesn't have the book I need!" This harsh fact of life seems insurmountable to most students who often lack the time, means of transportation, or wherewithall to go to another research library to find the sources they need.  Take the time to show them how to make requests so they can see the speed (or sometimes lack-there-of) of the ILL system so that in future research projects they will have been warned to start their research early in order to take advantage of ILL.

To make an ILL request, type "ILL" in the access main menu and fill out the form.  There is also a web-based ILL request form available now.

Case Study: My ESL Composition Class Research Unit: back to introduction

My first attempt to take advantage of the possibilities offered by computer-based research took place under somewhat confining circumstances: an English 5 (ESL Second Semester Composition) class. The course was designed by the ESL program to revolve around certain types of writings rather than any specific theme: an illustration ("An Unwritten Rule"), an argument ("Persuasive Letter"), a cause and effect research paper ("The Civil Rights Movement"), and a literary analysis (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). One of the disadvantages from my perspective was that I could not easily link the units together thematically. The other was that I let myself fall victim to the term "research paper" and did not consider teaching research throughout the semester. Much of my thinking about making research a part of the overall process comes as a direct result of having taught this unit where research was separated from the general writing process.

Although these difficulties made integrating research difficult, I did have a number of advantages as well. Fortunately, the ESL program at Lehigh allows its instructors a lot of leeway in how they teach these genres, and I took some advantage of that by teaching in a computer classroom and having my students familiarize themselves with the computers by actively using my computer conference board (ENGL5-10) to respond to class readings in the unit before the research paper. Thus, the first efforts we made at researching our topic, the Civil Rights Movement, were not as traumatic as they might have been if I had introduced the dreaded week of research techniques, the LUNA Main Menu, and the Web at the same time. Likewise, I had the added advantage of having a classroom of fifteen international students, one recent immigrant, and one bilingual Latino in the class, making the issue we were researching totally new to most of the students. This almost universal ignorance compelled the students to work together to build a storehouse of knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement out of necessity, making the collaborative nature of our research more effective. Finally, my own appalling ignorance about the Civil Rights Movement became an advantage when I told my students that we would be learning about issues and events that I did not know much about either, making their collaborative efforts even more "useful" in that they saw their research as a way to teach me about my own country's history.

The first week of the actual research paper unit was incredibly labor-intensive for both my students and myself, which is part of the reason I believe research techniques need to be folded into a course of the entire length of a semester rather than all in one fell swoop. I introduced each technique in the following order:

(1) How to look up library materials via the computer.

I started by introducing my students to the electronic card catalogue at Lehigh (ASA) and demonstrated how to use it through both the LUNA (Access) main menu and through the Lehigh Home Page's Virtual Library by projecting my actions on the computer lab's projection screen. After students were reasonably comfortable finding which library housed the resource, what floor it was on, what the call number was, and if it was available, we moved on to Sitesearch, the academic article database clearing house. In addition to showing them how to access the humanities databases, I made a special point of showing them that other discipline-specific databases could be accessed so that they would have that resource available to them for future research. While I only showed them how to access Sitesearch through the LUNA menu, I pointed out that Sitesearch was also available through the Virtual Library. After spending some time going over Boolean search techniques, I asked the students to get a feel for some of the issues that scholars had talked about by looking at the articles a general search on "Civil Rights" and "Race" generated. From these points of reference, I asked them to find a sub-issue that interested them and design a search to pull up articles on that sub-topic. We then cut and pasted the search results into a word processor, printed the results, and went to the library to find the articles. This whole process took one and a half class periods as well as two evenings of homework.

(2) How to look up non-Internet sources:

In an effort to make sure that my students did not overlook the wealth of information about the Civil Rights Movement written before the 1970s and 1980s (the historical limit of most of the databases currently available on-line), I took my students back to the library and looked at the Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature in Linderman Library and the New York Times Index in Fairchild-Martindale library. My students were particularly fascinated that the indexes themselves revealed some of the issues of the day: both the Reader's Guide and the New York Times Indexlisted the Civil Rights Movement under "Negroes" in the volumes covering the 1960s to the 1970s. They also liked the way many related articles were linked together and sometimes abstracted; it gave them a sense of how people during the actual historical era grouped the issues together. Each student looked up at least one article from the era of the issue he or she was researching, and I demonstrated where to find the microfilms of the older periodicals and how to use the microfilm reader. These activities took one and a half 50-minute classes and an evening's homework assignment.

(3) How to use the World Wide Web:

After developing my own crude handout on how to use the Yahoo and Excite search engines (see appendix 1), I briefly demonstrated how to find items on the Web and how to narrow that search down to a manageable number of documents after the first two thousand hits came up. After students learned the basics, I gave them the URL address of a MLA style sheet for citing sources (, and then I turned them loose in search of Web pages related to their topics for the rest of the 50 minute class period.

(4) How to use LEXIS-NEXIS:

The next class was spent demonstrating LEXIS-NEXIS, the full-text article retrieval service to which Lehigh subscribes. Through this service, students can find full-text copies of articles from newspapers, journals, and magazines that cover everything from legal topics, business, politics, science, and general news.  At the time, the only version available at Lehigh was the extremely difficult Telnet version, which had the added inconvenience of being available only to five users at a time from across the Lehigh campus.  Students were unable to actually use the service as I demonstrated it, which is no longer a problem with the web version.  Using the Telnet version, I spent 50 minutes explaining the organization of LEXIS-NEXIS as well as an evening of homework for them to play with the service.  In more recent classes, a fifteen minute demonstration of the web version followed by half an hour of in-class research seems to be enough to introduce students to the service.

(5) Sharing Resources:

After each acquisition of articles, students were to summarize some of the articles they read and post their summaries to the conference board (the assignment is available in appendix 2). Each student posted two summaries of articles found through Sitesearch, one summary of an article from the historical era being studied, one summary of an article from Lexis-Nexis, and two summaries of Web sites. For each, the students were to give all of the relevant bibliographic information so that anyone could find the source should it prove to be useful, offer a brief summary of three key points and issues in the article, describe the author's opinion on the subject, give a statement about what sorts of biases the author had, list points the author should have addressed, and offer a final evaluation of the article's usefulness. I also asked my students to try and make the titles of their post usable to other students by putting their own names and the title or subject of the article in the subject heading, thus indicating whose opinion was in the post and what the topic under discussion was. Each student was urged to look at a few of the posts made by others in the class, but no provision was made to make sure this happened.

(6) The Vocabulary Assignment:

Using a list of key terms, events, and historical figures from the Civil Rights Movement produced by the ESL Program, I assigned each student a term and told them all to post one screen of information explaining the relevance of that term to the Civil Rights Movement unit (a copy of this assignment is available in the appendix 3). Each student was to provide the documentation for the source(s) the student consulted to find out about the term, preferably with a hypertext link to a Web site if applicable. I held an "open conference board" quiz on a few of the vocabulary terms to get the students to look at each other's posts.

(7) Posting Drafts on the Conference Board:

In an effort to spur the collaborative feel of the research we were doing, I had students post copies of the first drafts of their papers on the conference board. Students then read these papers off the conference board during peer review. Students were also encouraged to look at what other people in the class were doing with similar topics and what sorts of research they were using to support their claims.


Analysis and Discussion of this Experience with Research in the Composition Classroom: back to introduction

The final drafts of the papers I received at the end of my research unit were slightly below average for my class. A large part of the difficulty students had with this research paper was that they felt that they were simply reproducing the traditional high school research paper that had gotten them A's in the past. Despite my efforts to stress collaboration, the need to make the topic their own by pursuing their own lines of interest, and a repeated warning to make sure they were proving something specific rather than simply regurgitating facts, four of my seventeen students neglected to include any sort of thesis at all in their papers, something that had happened only once up until that point in the class. I feel that for some of them, my statements that this form of research was meant to help them form a new opinion about and understanding of the subject than they were used to in high school research simply did not match the activities we were doing: the week of intense research methods instruction and the summaries that they believed few people except the teacher read felt just like an old-fashioned high school paper to many of them, and that is what they wrote.

I did notice, however, that a number of students did get a lot out of the use of the Web, LEXIS-NEXIS, Sitesearch, the periodical guides, and the collaborative pool of information. My students went from barely quoting anybody to using extensive quotes from primary documents like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," the Klu Klux Klan Home Page's statement of beliefs, newspaper interviews with and reports about prominent Civil Rights activists written during the 1960s and the 1990s, and even Supreme Court decisions. Furthermore, at least half of these quotes were (by the final draft) placed in some historical context that made an effort to question either the ideology of the writer or the ideology of another text. My favorite example is from a student who traced the contradictory nature of a number of Supreme Court rulings from the Civil War through the 1970s that showed how the Court's earlier decisions helped create the inequality that later decisions overturned. The same paper went on to look at the Court's post-Civil Rights decisions that undercut the power of the 1960s rulings, emphasizing the shifting views on race that each decision revealed. On the other hand, a number of students made no effort at all to try to explore the ideological implications of these sources, leaving me to wonder why they did not. Yet even with these not-so-successful attempts at evaluating sources, the number of successes in the class makes me feel that the research was a valuable use of class time.

In hindsight, there are a number of changes I would have made to improve the effectiveness of the course. Most of these changes have little to do with the actual use of the computers as research tool; instead, most focus on how the class fostered a need for research and how students collaborated in the research efforts. In the future, here are some of the changes I will be making:

(1) Design a course that encourages research in every unit as part of a broad theme.

By making research a potential part of every paper, students will no longer be able to hold onto the belief that research is done only on those rare occasions when an instructor assigns a "research paper." At the same time, students will have an opportunity to develop their research skills and ability to evaluate their sources over time instead of all at once. Most importantly, by having each unit feed into the next as part of a semester-long look at a particular theme, students will find value in researching issues even if they do not include it in their current paper because they know that they may come back to the source in the next unit, which in turn encourages students to reexamine sources in light of new insights or sources.

(2) Discuss the tactical choices researchers make when choosing between text and Internet sources.

While I am pleased that my students came to see a value in having actually looked up and read journal articles and newspaper stories from the era in question, their bibliographies revealed a preference for Web sources that suggests two potential problems: students see the Web as a way of avoiding having to physically go to the library to look up material, and they do not seem concerned that their audience(s) may view Internet resources with suspicion. One student included a reference to a document from a Web site that included the phrase "school.suxs" in its URL, something my student never even noticed and was very embarrassed about when I asked her how I as the teacher was supposed to feel about her paper when she would trust a source like that. In my students' defense, the emphasis I placed on exploring the new world of the World Wide Web probably contributed to their preference for sources from it. In my desire to show them a new tool, I forgot to tell them the perception danger they faced.

Some instructors, like Robert Harris of Southern California College, offer students guides for evaluating on-line resources for credibility that may be of some use to students ( Harris cautions students to evaluate the intended audience of a web page (Is it intended for children? Adults? Is it a sales pitch? Is it too technical or general?), which is an important consideration (2). His suggestions tend to represent the general attitude of most academic discourse communities ("Look for Evidence of Credibility [such as]. . . Reputation, Scholarliness, Good credentials, Eyewitnesses, Thoughtful reasoner," [Harris 1-2] etc.), which is important for students to see so that they can make informed choices about what sources they will use in their academic writings given the risks associated with selecting sources that fall outside traditional academic expectations. Yet at the same time, his suggestions rein in the liberating potential of the Internet by acting as an ideological state apparatus that values the "residual objectivism" that McCormick cautions against: "How reasonable is the presentation or discussion? Pay attention to the tone. Angry, hateful, critical, spiteful tones often betray an irrational hatchet job underway. Venting is not arguing . . . a good writer should control his or her biases" (Harris 3). Harris wants his students to reject the idea that emotion or passion have a place in argument and to reject texts that employ emotion as a rhetorical strategy. His advice has some pragmatic value in that the Internet at times seems to wallow in this type of writing, much of which students have never encountered in an academic setting. Yet by insisting that this type of writing has no value, he is in effect trying to lock students into one ideological framework for dealing with other perspectives. I am not comfortable with this current-traditional approach, but I am not sure how to balance opening up the range of sources we encourage students to look at against the expectations of their instructors. Perhaps guides such as Harris' are useful in that we can show them to our students to help them evaluate the ideology of the academic community. 5

(3) The ease with which text from Internet sources may copied and pasted into a document requires a clarification to students about how to document sources.

A number of students, particularly those with some experience working with the Internet, saw no need to indicate that they had lifted large (or even small) chunks of text from on-line sources. Some did this because they thought that this was an easy way to cheat that would be virtually undetectable, while others did it because they saw that much of the Internet is composed of "samplings" from other documents that are not particularly well documented. When I saw this happening, I usually had a one-on-one discussion with the student in question, but I made no real effort to discuss this growing problem with the class. In the future, all of us will have to deal with this attitude, even those of us who choose not to use the computers in the classroom.

(4) Incorporate USENET and LISTSERV discussion groups in the class:

Many of the potential benefits of introducing USENET and LISTSERV discussion groups occurred to me as I did research for this paper. My students did not get the chance to witness the exchange of ideas that are going on in hundreds of distinct discourse communities on the Internet, nor did they get a chance to see how their own ideology contrasted against the ideologies in these groups. In future classes, I intend to have students observe a USENET group or subscribe to a LISTSERV and have them report on the terms of the debate, the ideologies in the debate, and any new factual information they might gain from observing this discussion. Likewise, I may press students towards the end of a semester to actually participate in the discussions of these groups so as to make them see that their research has equipped them to participate in a real-world debate.

(5) Students' reports on research made on the conference board have to be usable by other students in the class in order to encourage the class to see the board as a site of collaboration.

As one student noted in an evaluation of the research unit, many of the summaries and vocabulary postings were not useful to those students wishing to learn more about a particular topic because they were so vague as to be content-free. While the majority of the posts contained useful information, a few notable examples said nothing at all. Compare the following samples of the vocabulary assignment written by two different students in my English as a Second Language class:

First student:

xx#       03/22/97 19:04 xxx: The Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-in    

Basically, it is a tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience that was

used by the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. In 1960, black college

students had launched this sit-in movement. They insisted on service

at a local segregated lunch counter. The movement then spread across

the nation, forcing the desegregation of department stores,supermarkets,
libraries, and movies theaters. By September 1961, it

was estimated tha more than 70,000 students had partipated

in the movement, with approximately 3,600 arrested; more than 100

cities in 20 cities had been affected. The movement then reached its

climax in August 1963  with a massive march on Washington, D.C., to

protest racial discrimination and demonstrate support for major civil

rights legislation.

Second student:

xxx#      03/24/97 01:34 xxx: Stokely Charmichael                    

Stokely Charmichael is the black activists and was under FBI

surveillance. He is the leader so deeply and vigorously which

alleviating the black's misfortunes. For more information, People can

go to get the information in the following site.


Note that in the first post, the student offers an eminently useful description of the Greensboro Counter Sit-in: how it started, what is was based on, numbers involved, and the effect on the rest of the Civil Rights Movement. Note also the care that went into the monitoring of her English; she makes only one error that obscures meaning ("20 cities" instead of "20 States"). The post's lack of a source is disturbing, but at least two different students read this post and found it interesting enough to look up more about the Greensboro Counter Sit-in on their own for their own papers. The second student's post, however, says absolutely nothing about Stokely Carmichael; other than the fact that he was (for some unknown reason) under surveillance, we learn nothing about him. Furthermore, the source listed turns out to be nothing but a photograph taken of him from the late 1960s that is clearly labeled a "surveillance" photograph. No other information is given at this site, suggesting the student in question spent a total of four minutes looking up one site on Carmichael and nothing more despite the lack of information discovered. Finally, the student's disregard for her English (despite the casual tone I encouraged on the conference board) makes what little information she does give all but impossible to decipher. Posts like the second one do more than simply waste the class' time in reading them; they make people resent having gone to a lot of trouble to find out about their article or term, and it makes the class distrust the value of the collaborative effort.

How instructors should handle posts that offer little to the information pool of the class is a difficult decision. I chose to deal with it privately by contacting the students who did not proved useful information by e-mail and requesting a more thoughtful post. I did not delete the uninformative posts from the conference board, however, and now I wish I had. By leaving the clutter on the board, the students found the board more difficult to wade through. Other instructors might choose to handle the situation differently, but the important consideration is that they think about how they will handle these problems in advance.

(6) Students need to be required to respond to each other's posts in some way in order to get at the ideologies they are seeing in the resources they have found and to get at the ideologies they are building for themselves.

Because I required students to write so much on the conference board during this unit, I felt uncomfortable asking them to undertake the additional task of writing responses to each other's posts. Unfortunately, at least five students felt comfortable enough to tell me during the evaluations that they did not read any other post during the unit, which suggests that others did not as well. Thus, even though many students commented on how useful they found each other's summaries, I wish I had taken steps to ensure that everyone read at least a few posts on the board.

A couple of potential activities have come to mind since my research unit ended. I believe that students could benefit from having to pick one summary to respond to, reading the same source, and then posting a counter-summary to the original summary on the source. The class would benefit from having two different responses to the same source while the original poster would have to reexamine his or her position on the article in light of the new perspective. Students could also benefit from having more activities like on-line quizzes that allow them to use the conference board to answer questions about the issues being researched. As the instructor, I could also emphasize the value of the posts by taking time every period to have a group analysis and discussion of posts by looking at one or two of them together.

In addition to these activites, I am beginning to believe that students need an opportunity to explore their emerging personal ideologies in a public forum, and by inviting students to post reflections about what their views are at key points in the semester, they can go back to their collection of posts and evaluate their own shifiting opinion and the opinions of others in the class.

(7) Students can see their writing as intended for a larger audience if it ultimately is presented to the world via the World Wide Web:

During the course of their research, students will doubtlessly encounter texts written by other students across the world. By having their papers be part of a resource site to be posted on the Web (with all of their names and e-mail addresses on it), students will be able to see themselves as writing for a broader audience that expects them to have explored various opinions and facts before making their writing public. Unlike pretenses at having students write for an audience other than the teacher or having students publish a newspaper or journal that is distributed among a small circle of people at Lehigh, Web publishing really does reach a world- wide audience, and students will have to take that into consideration as they try to support the claims they will make in their papers. As they delve into research, they will get a feel for what types of sources they personally like to see others use, what types of writings they find most convincing, and what types of writings people respond to the most. A real live audience outside of the classroom context can be a strong motivator for students to make sure they have really looked into the issues of their topic before going public with their claims.

Closing Comments back to introduction

I began my foray into the world of computer-assisted research with a simple goal: helping my students to find information to support their claims. After a review of the problems with traditional research methods, I began to see computers as a way of shifting research from a simple fact-finding quest to an epistemic process of writing. Having just attempted to use these ideas in my ESL classroom with mixed results, I am still cautiously excited by the way computers may be able to merge research and writing together into one on-going process for our students. For the moment, I attribute any difficulties I had to the institutional requirements determined by the ESL program and my own inexperience with how to get the most out of the computers. My hope is that I can take the lessons I learned from this semester and use them to improve future attempts at making research an integral part of my students' writing processes in both ESL and mainstream composition classes

Having said that, I must acknowledge that those of us who are excited by computers in the classroom need to reexamine constantly their effectiveness: we need to ask ourselves periodically why we have chosen to use these electronic boxes, if they are living up to the potential we see in them, if we are using them in the most effective way possible, and if we are letting ourselves get swept up in the urge to use technology for technology's sake. Yet when I think about how we as instructors approach our own writing, I cannot help but notice that all of us use the basic principles of computer-assisted research outlined in this paper, and all of us learned how to analyze and evaluate the ideological positions of sources by finding and analyzing documents in the context of our own interests in an on-going debate about an issue. I believe we need to let students see that these research methods are how we actually write, that computer-assisted research is a part of our processes. If we can do that, we may just find that our students might come one step closer to finding the same amount of fun that we do in writing. 

Notes back to introduction

1. In his history of composition studies in the United States, James Berlin notes that traditional research papers remove writing from the process of creating knowledge because "the research paper represented the insistence in current-traditional rhetoric on finding meaning outside the composing act, with writing itself serving as a simple transcription process" (70). Under this paradigm, students write to record rather than write to know, making the value of the traditional research paper questionable at best if the purpose of composition courses is to help students learn to make meaning through writing. back to text

2. The title of a slightly reworked version of McCormick's essay illustrates the inherent contradiction that lies in most research paper assignments: "On a topic of your own choosing and with a clear position of your own, use at least seven unbiased, accurate, and authoritative sources to write a balanced and objective paper that gives a complete picture of the subject you are investigating." Reading more like a topic description than the title of an academic article, the title of this revised version of her "Using Cultural Theory" essay offers a composite of the general instructions offered to students when they are asked to write a research paper: come up with your own opinion, but give preference to only certain types of sources that the dominant ideology approves of. back to text 

3. James C. McDonald suggests that students "often strongly believe that a research paper should not include their opinions" (5), due in large part to the same ISAs described by McCormick. Given the limitations placed on students in their attempts to inquire into a topic, it is no wonder they often produce dry and opinionless writing; they have no choice in the matter. back to text

4. The same problem applies to courses designed by instructors who seek to circumvent the ideology of a particular anthology by selecting and passing out photocopied texts to students; the fact that they are selected makes them part of what I like to call the personal ideological apparatus (PIA) of the instructor, making the syllabus of carefully chosen readings just as ideologically restrictive as the average anthology. Thus, while composition specialists like David Bartholomae, Patricia Bizzell, and even McCormick herself argue that students need to be retaught how to read a text and have designed textbooks to help push students to look at the ideological positions of the texts they read, they still in part contain their students inside an invisible ideological box. See Bartholomae and Petrosky's Ways of Reading (Boston: St. Martins, 1996), Bizzell and Herzberg's Negotiating Difference: Cultural Case Studies for Composition (Boston: St. Martin's, 1996), and McCormick, Waller, and Flower's Reading Texts (Lexington MA,: Heath, 1987). back to text

5. At Lehigh University, David Leight has provided a links page for student guides to evaluating Internet resources entitled "Links to Tools to aid in a Critical Analysis of Web Pages" ( that his students can use on their own when evaluating Web-based documents. back to text

Works Cited back to introduction

Bartholomae, David and Anthony R. Petrosky. Facts, Artifacts and Counterfacts: Theory and Method for a Reading and Writing Course. Upper Montclair (NJ): Boynton/Cook, 1986.

Berlin, James A. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985 Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

Day, Michael."Tapping the Living Database--A Practical Activity for Writing Classes." (October 1994). Rhetnet. (April 18, 1997).

Harris, Robert. "Evaluating Internet Research Sources." (January 16, 1997). http://www.sccu.ed/faculty/R_Harris/evalu8it.htm (April 18, 1997).

"Informing Assumptions and Policy Guidelines: First-Year Writing Program"  Department manual. English Department, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA. April 1996.

Larson, Richard L. "The 'Research Paper' in the Writing Course: A Non-Form of Writing" (1982).

The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook. Eds. Gary Tate and Edward P.J. Corbett. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. 361-366.

McCormick, Kathleen. "On a topic of your own choosing and with a clear position of  your own, use at least seven unbiased, accurate, and authoritative sources to write a balanced and objective paper that gives a complete picture of the subject you are investigating."  Writing Theory and Critical Theory. Eds. John Clifford and John Schilb. New York: MLA, 1994. 33-52.

-----. "Using Cultural Theory to Critique and Reconceptualize the Research Paper."  Cultural Studies in the English Classroom. Eds. James A. Berlin and Michael J. Vivion. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1992. 211-30.

McDonald, James C. "The Research Paper and Postmodern Pedagogy." College English Association Annual Meeting. Buffalo (NY), April 5-7, 1990. ERIC ED 322 536.

Trimbur, John. "Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning." College English 51.6 (1989): 602-616.

Appendix 1: Search Techniques back to introduction

Spring 1997 World Wide Web Research Halbert

I. Lehigh Home Page: Virtual Library (

Amazing resources:

ASA-- Lehigh's On-line Library Catalogue (graphics version).
Encyclopedia Britannica
II. Web Search Engine: Yahoo ( III. Web Search Engine: Excite (
Appendix 2: Summarizations Assignment

English 5-10 Summarizations Halbert


For this unit, we will all be summarizing (retelling in a shorter, more compact form) articles that we will look up either in the library, on the Internet, or the World Wide Web. The purpose of the summaries is to help other people in the class have quick access to the main thesis of the articles you will read and the key points the author makes to support this thesis. Hopefully, these summaries will serve as a source of information for all of us that will both give us background information on the Civil Rights movement that will help us each build an understanding of the period and its impact on America today.

Each summary should be posted in separate messages to the conference board under the appropriate heading. Make sure your subject heading has your name and the title of the article or Web Site in it, like this: Hal: "Civil Rights Revisited."

The format for each summary is as follows:

A. Identification of Article:

1. Name of Article:
2. Author(s)'s Name(s):
3. Date of publication:
4. Source Name: (Magazine name, book name, or site name and World Wide Web URL address)
5. Page numbers in source:
B. Content:
1. Main subject of article: (Freedom Riders, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, slavery)
2. Author's thesis/opinion:
3. At least three key points or pieces of evidence given by the author:
C. Evaluation:
1. Was the article helpful?
2. What sort of bias did the author have?
3. What do you wish the author had said more about?
Summaries Due Dates:

Monday, March 17: Summaries of two articles from the library. Post under "Unit 4: 1st Article Summaries."

Wednesday, March 19: Summary of one article off of Lexis/Nexis and one newspaper or magazine article from the 1960s. Post under "Unit 4: 2nd Article Summaries."

Friday, March 21: Summaries of two different Civil Rights Web Sites. Post under "Unit 4: Web Sites."

Appendix 3: Vocabulary Assignment:

Listed bellow, all of you have a few vocabulary terms related to the Civil Rights Movement that I would like for you to look up and post a definition that explains the term. The syllabus asks for ten lines on each item, as well as two sources, but I have decided that you need only have a minimum of four sentences (each) about your items and only one source. Follow this format:

Subject heading: Your name: "word 1" and "word 2"



So ideally, it would look like this:


hw2  03/20/97  0705 Hal: "I Have a Dream"

"I Have a Dream"

"I Have a Dream" is a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered on

August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. at the foot of the Lincoln

Memorial.  The speech is a passionate call for the freedom of blacks

in America.  It cites the joy that slaves should have felt at the

Emancipation Proclamation, the lack of freedom 100 years later due to

segregation, and it charges America with "defaulting" on its

"promissory note" for freedom.  As result, blacks must use

non-violent means to push for change.  He further answers the white

population's question "when will you be satisfied?" by saying when

nobody is judged by their skin color.  He closes the speech with a

call to "let freedom ring" across the nation, creating an incredible

emotional impact on the audience.

Source: "I have a Dream" _Martin Luther King Day_ home page.

(March 20, 1997)

Here are your terms:

xxx--The Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit- In

Bill--13th, 14th, 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Az--Plessy vs. Ferguson

Jeesuk--Jim Crow (this is an attitude, not a person)

Audrey--Thurgood Marshall


Jack--Malcolm X (be sure to explain the "X")

xxx-Stokely Carmichael

Moha--Rosa Parks

Masliza--March on Washington, Aug. 18th, 1963

Hai-Long--Klu Klux Klan

John--The Montgomery Bus Boycotts


Masa--SNCC & Black Power

Jill--James Meredith

Tom--Freedom Riders

Kelly--Voting Rights Act of 1968

Ana--Brown vs Board of Education


If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, email me at 
URL:  Updated 5/98
Lehigh English Department