Rodrigues, Dawn. The Research Paper and the World Wide Web. Upper Saddle River, Prentice-Hall: 1997.
A review by Bradley Bleck
In the last couple years, texts on the teaching of English using or incorporating the Internet have been coming across my desk for review and, on the publisher's and my part, hopeful adoption. Among the first I had a look at, there was Eric Crump and Nick Carbone's English Online, which I presently use for online classes. After that, they came in no particular order: Web Works by Martin Irvine, Online! by Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger, Casting Your Net by H. Eric Branscomb (which doesn't yet have its own website beyond the general Allyn and Bacon site), and, most recently, Dawn Rodrigues' The Research Paper and the World Wide Web. When I first looked at these books, I had to step back and disregard my online experience and adopt the persona of the student who may have done some web surfing, sent a little email, maybe dabbled in UseNet or chats, but who has little or no experience actually making the Internet into something beyond a playground. After that, I look upon the text with the eye of a fairly experienced user of and teacher on the Internet, looking for something that can take my teaching and my student's learning to a place where I otherwise would not have been able to go. By combining these two views, I ultimately judge the worth of a text written to support online teaching. Such is the approach I've taken to evaluate Rodrigues' text.
For the student, the The Research Paper and the World Wide Web is a text well worth having. Along with being a guide to the Internet, the text and its accompanying website also provide a process-oriented guide to conducting research, either online or in a library. One of the text's features that I appreciate is that the approach to research developed in the text can work as well with a student who has access to just a traditional library without online sources as it does with a student who has access to all of the latest online bells and whistles. The text provides research strategies, information analysis strategies, questioning strategies for the student's attitudes as well as questioning strategies that address the quality of the material found for the essay, and quite a lot more.
The text begins with an introduction to the Research Process in the Information Age, (this is a link to the non-frames version) informing readers not only of the myriad of possibilities for traditional and web based or electronic research, but questioning strategies are also provided to help the student through the initial stages of their research essay process. Not only is this approach helpful to student and teacher alike, but it is, at least in its clearly stated form, somewhat of a rare commodity when compared to many of the research writing texts I've seen. For those who lack the skills to readily navigate the web, they're directed to the second and third chapters to get a better handle on how to get around and access information on the Internet. Subsequent chapters, and their supporting websites, take students through a thorough introduction to the Internet and its usefulness as a research tool. In chapter two, A Researcher's Introduction to the Web, readers are provided with the background to understand Internet jargon, convention, and history. In Chapter Three, The Basics of Web Navigation, students are given some strategies for getting around on the Net and finding what they want or need.
Chapters four through six cover The Finding of Libraries on the Net, the Finding of Library Resources and Discipline Specific Resources for business, engineering, and other non-English courses. These chapters provide guidance in how to find traditional library offerings online as well as guidance in how to find research materials that can only be found on the Web. If the text is used as a sequential guide, by the time students reach chapters four and five, they'll have a topic and at least a general idea about what they are searching for and how to conduct a search for electronic and traditional materials online. Chapters four and five also build on what students should be bringing to the college classroom by assuming that students have at least general knowledge on using libraries for research and takes this basis of understanding onto the Internet where students can begin combining their old and new knowledge.
Chapter seven, the use of E-Mail, Mailing lists, and Newsgroups as Research Tools, addresses access to those who are active in their field of study online along with some discussion of netiquette and the reliability of the information that comes from these sources. Chapter eight covers Organizing Strategies for all the material that has been gathered along with a monthly up-date for the organizing strategies page (not working as of the time of this draft: 22 August 97). And finally, with chapter nine, the Documentation Requirements of the Material found, be they electronic or otherwise, is taken up. Sprinkled throughout the text are practical strategies for note taking, questions to ask while gathering material, approaches to organizing material on the computer, netiquette, checking the worth of source material, suggestions for research essay topics (at the end of each chapter), and a glossary to help readers wade through the net-based jargon. The only noticeable absence is material to guide students through the process of composing the essay, but assuming that The Research Paper and the World Wide Web would be used in conjunction with a process-oriented rhetoric. This is a small quibble, even though its addition would enable Rodrigues' text to be used as the primary text in a research writing course rather than as a supplement.
Having made the switch in my mind from somewhat unknowing student to somewhat knowing teacher, the first thing I like about Rodrigues' text is that it takes students through the whole research process, while fully incorporating the Internet, and it begins at a place where most students with Internet experience are likely to feel comfortable: browsing for fun. This approach is one thing that makes this text superior to such pioneering online guides as an English Online or Web Works. These two texts serve more as effective general guides to the Internet, and while most of the previously mentioned texts containing Internet support provide solid advice for using the Internet, none takes the student writer through the process of finding a topic and gathering information and data to support an essay on that topic as well as Rodrigues' text. But then, I don't think they were intended to do so.
Also, since most students who have used the Internet have used it for fun, beginning from a familiar place will ease the transition from Internet as toy to Internet as tool. As I tend to do when writing essays or articles, I tell students to choose a topic that they are interested in, one they want to learn about, or one they know something about already. Any student browsing the web should be able to come up with a topic using at least one of these three criteria. Browsing the Internet for topics facilitates this building on already acquired knowledge and already held interests. The practice box section of the first chapter takes students through this process of asking questions, the responses to which will lead students to a possibly workable essay topic. Once a topic is hit upon, the text provides specific strategies to narrow a search to come up with more information. Frankly, if a student can't come up with a workable topic by using the material provided in the first chapter of The Research Paper and the World Wide Web, it's not the fault of the text.
Another of the things I like about Rodrigues' text is the depth of the online support. The text itself is supported by a Prentice Hall companion website, and if you have followed any of the links provided so far, you will see how the site supports each chapter with a variety of web pages, with a choice of frames, no frames, or Webtv version. The no frames link also works well in the text-based browser, Lynx. These pages include a brief overview of the chapter, a chapter review of multiple choice questions that when answered are automatically responded to (and hints are provided in pull down menus just in case a student or teacher finds themselves stumped). This is followed by a key concepts review consisting of open-ended questions and tasks that test for comprehension. These student responses are electronically submitted to the instructor so the website materials can be used as not only a test of a student's ability to use and understand the material covered, but also as a check on whether they are doing assigned work. There is also an evaluating sources link (only with chapter one), a hypernews-type chapter chat forum (only active in the first two chapters as of 15 September 1997) to discuss the topics of the chapter and issues that might arise. Rodrigues described the interactive functions as those she is most excited about. She plans to check the forums a couple of times a week (quite a job considering there are nine chapters and at least one school, the Air Force Academy, has adopted the text). Each chapter also contains a set of chapter links taken from and related to the topics covered in the particular chapter, a set of links to generally related sites, links to a number of research topics, and a link to some general help. The general help link is the same for all chapters, providing help for navigating and understanding the website and its linked sites.
This website, while not a substitute for the text, is quite an asset even if the text is not used--something I'm not sure the publisher had in mind. The links themselves are among the best collections I've ever come across on the web. There are links to all of the UseNet links, links to some writing across the curriculum programs, and much, much, more. The downside to all these links can be seen with the first chapter's set of "chapter links": the link to "Selected Civil War Photographs" was down, as was the link to "Wolves: A Bibliography and Guide to the Literature," and there was some double listing of active links. A number of links returned the always disappointing "this server does not have a DNS entry," and some of the pages linked to the text's site that are active have not been updated in at least 18 months. (I found a class I was to teach at a Spokane Falls Community College in Washington state but never taught as I moved to Nevada at that time. The link to that class has long been dead, but an online composition class I've been teaching for seven semesters now is nowhere to be found.) Of course, the problem of maintaining those links between the Rodrigues' website and the external sites for which links are provided is beyond the control of Rodrigues or Prentice Hall as these are problems more of the Web itself than of Rodrigues' text or website. But the actual maintenance of Rodrigues' site is her responsibility. Unfortunately that responsibility is hampered by Prentice Hall's practice of updating her webpages just once every three months, an eternity on the web. In the future Prentice Hall might want to either give those responsible for maintaining sites access to their server or at least updating sites every couple of weeks.
When I get down to the business of looking for a new text I look for one that has information that is new to me and is helpful and informative to my students--Rodrigues' text does all this. I don't know if this speaks of my limited knowledge, but right from the start I found new ideas and new approaches to old tasks. If you are looking to incorporate the Internet as a research tool into your classes, and you want to provide your students a text that will support them both in their use of the Internet and in their need for developing solid research skills and practices, The Research Paper and the World Wide Web is worth a serious look. In fact, after looking it over for the past few weeks, it's likely to replace English Online in my online research essay class.
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