Readings, Reading Reports, and In-Class Discussion

Assigned readings will focus on research topics, generally consisting of:

  • A framing paper: presenting a theory, language, or understanding that can contextualize the contributions of additional research.

  • Two instance papers with more recent or specific contributions: presenting the type of contribution you might initially be expected to attempt in your research.

You are expected to read: (1) the framing paper, and (2) either of the instance papers (e.g., whichever seems more compelling or interesting to you). You obviously may choose to read all three. The calendar will link to assigned readings and provide any day-specific revisions to this reading structure.

You are expected to have read and considered the assigned readings prior to class, as the in-class discussions are a critical component of this course. To help prepare for an engaging and meaningful discussion, we also assign Reading Reports that are implemented as a pre-class forum discussion.

Reading Reports

To help prepare for in-class discussion, we require discussion posts sharing ideas and questions beforehand. You can start a new discussion, participate in an existing discussion, or do a bit of both. You can discuss all of the assigned readings, or focus on a portion of the reading that you found most interesting. The important part is that we can see intellectual effort in your forum participation.

Reading reports are expected to be forum posts of approximately 200 to 400 words. This may be in a single post or distributed across several posts related to a day's readings. We expect most will be short and focused on discussion points or questions, and posts that problematically exceed the upper limit or primarily summarize a reading will receive low grades. This aims to strike a balance between: (1) enough text to convey a meaningful response, and (2) succinct enough to allow review before class.

Your participation in the forum discussion for each day will be graded on a scale from 0 to 2. Especially insightful forum contributions may receive an additional point. We expect this will be uncommon.

  • 0: If you do not participate.
  • 1: If your participation seems weak and does not convince us you read, understood, and considered the readings. This grade will be common for posts that are a summary of a reading or a shallow response to an existing post.
  • 2: If your participation shows you read and understood the readings and had something interesting to say. We expect this will be the most common grade.
  • 3: Reserved for especially insightful participation.

It is generally easy to find something to criticize in any piece of research. But focusing exclusively on the potential flaws of research is often not productive (i.e., the assigned papers have been reviewed and then curated as part of inclusion in this course). You will generally find it more intellectually worthwhile to focus on aspects of work that are particularly well done, new ideas are prompted by a piece of work, or what you might have done differently if you conducted the research. This will also generally lead to much more valuable discussions.

Potential topics for discussion are:

  • What idea or innovation enabled this, what more might be done based on that idea or innovation?
  • What new questions or research agendas are suggested by this research?
  • How might this research have informed some other research you have seen?
  • What aspects of this work were particularly well done or effective?
  • If you had conducted this research, what would you have done differently?

We also note that some papers will be presented by authors of those papers. Although we want everybody to be comfortable with open discussion, and although we do not expect posts to be overly formal, this is another reason to be thoughtful in how you approach paper discussion.

Discussions will be coordinated using Canvas:

We will create a discussion post for each day and a discussion thread for each paper. If you have a thought or question that relates to multiple papers, post it wherever seems more appropriate.

Reading reports are due at 11:59pm the night before each class meeting. This ensures time the next morning to review discussion before class. Submitting the day of class, just before class, or in class is therefore unacceptable and risks zero credit.

In-Class Discussion Format

To help facilitate discussion, this offering will explore a new in-class discussion format. We may adjust this discussion format according to our experience with it.

Each 80-minute discussion of a research topic will begin with 20 minutes of small group discussion. Students will self-organize into small groups of 5 to 6 to discuss the readings (e.g., drawing upon insights that participants shared in the discussion forum). Presenters and course staff will listen in, but these discussions will be entirely student led. Each small group will then "report out" by contributing a discussion question to the presenter and the class. Discussion questions will be gathered in a single document, giving the presenter a key set of ideas around which the class would like to engage.

Our goals for this discussion format are to:

  • Provide smaller groups in which students may feel more comfortable raising ideas and questions.
  • Similarly provide a structure in which small groups can raise questions to the presenter and the class.
  • Make it easier for guest presenters to engage the class's key questions, as the discussion forum can easily become overwhelming for guest presenters.

We expect different presenters may then take different approaches to engaging the class's key questions. Some presenters may engage the class's key questions as part of presenting prepared material, others may present prepared material and then use the class's key questions to frame additional discussion. For example, a presenter might bring 30 minutes of prepared material and still have ample time for discussion. Students may of course raise additional questions during presentation and discussion. This format is intended to help promote discussion contributions that might otherwise be missed, and should not be interpreted as limiting our ability to discuss additional ideas and questions as they emerge.