Thank you to Joshua Zimmerman, lecturer at San Jose State University’s iSchool, for this fantastic post. His in-depth perspective is in 2 posts and I encourage everyone to read it thoroughly. Josh has great strategies to help emerging professionals prepare for and contribute to the intellectual discourse of archival scholarship. (Read Part 1)
As of 2015, the MARA program has adopted a new core competency (J) which aims to “[i]dentify ways in which archivists and records managers can contribute to the cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of our global communities.” While my course isn’t tied to this competency officially, I’ve been trying to develop ways to incorporate this core competency in order to broaden the scope of the course (2). I have a discussion based around the students’ analysis of how the Afrobarometer visualizes research data. In addition to adding additional international voices in the form of articles and readings, I’m also working on a lecture for next year on the topic of researching across cultures and the challenges and ethical dilemmas that accompany it. In it, I mention issues of ownership, trust, risks, and critical self-examination. Even if students, for example, never publish a scholarly journal about Chinese recordkeeping or never conduct fieldwork in Haiti, these items speak directly to the well-being of their own communities and it helps to prepare students to work with communities and people who may be very different than themselves. Whether or not I actually apply to have this competency assigned to my course, I nevertheless want to make this an integral part of its content.
In addition to all the methods, designs, purposes, and data collection tools detailed in the textbook and accompanying readings, I’ve tried to interject some more theoretical issues around doing research such as the topic of objectivity vs. neutrality, in particular the Greene, Ramirez, and Jimerson debate. I have also have a lecture section devoted to failure in the research process. Though I haven’t found a way to integrate it into the assignments, though I do ask students in the last discussion section to detail a failure that they’ve had in the class (3). I share my failures in the course development as well as research process. As a rule, I try to integrate 1 or 2 new elements into the course each year. These are definitely good candidates for failure! I also focused on research paradigms and ask students to isolate one to explore in a discussion (4). This provides some handy vocabulary that students can incorporate into their work. It also gives them some experience in larger theoretical frameworks of academia, many of which are new to students.
Even before I started teaching in the MARA program, I was impressed with the job prospects data that they collected and made available to prospective students. They seem to be one of few archives programs that collect and publish this type of data. This year, I’ve started to keep a better track and be more mindful of statistics and demographics in the course. For instance, in my course bibliography, I have a nearly equal distribution of male and female authors (33 to 32). Of those, 8 are authors outside the United States, clearly a statistic that I need to work on. This is information that I make available to students.
Also, last year, 8 students wrote on archival topics, while 4 wrote on records management topics. One wrote about a topic that blended both. This year, there are 9 students wrote on archives topics while 4 wrote on records management. This lets me get an understanding of the career trajectory of the students, something that the Student Opinion of Test Effectiveness (SOTE) evaluations nor the post-graduation employment survey specifically address. I plan on creating a separate section for statistics that incorporates other aspects of the course, namely grades.
Ideas for Next Year
Some ideas for next year are to create a class style guide, similar to style guides / submission guidelines encountered when submitting to journals. This will approximate what those who do go onto submit articles, reviews, etc. will encounter. Unable to let the idea of usability of student’s work go, I might align the final proposal more with the application for ARMA International Education Foundation’s Research Project Proposal Form, due to its wide scope of both archives and records management.
Overall, teaching this class has been a rewarding experience and I’ve learned that I have more experience than I thought I had. As an archivist who graduated from the history camp of archives education, I think MARA 285 provides a broad overview of the many possible approaches and research designs. This, I think, is the classes’ strength. While students might not rush out and conduct ethnographic fieldwork in a records center or design a participatory action research methodology for setting up a community archives, they’ve at least been exposed to some of these interesting ideas and designs. I think that I’ve done a good job at preparing students for a career in writing and publishing, or at the very least, reading and critically analyzing professional literature.
Now, return to the questions that I raised in the introduction. I’ve given you an overview of the structure, themes, and problems of the course, so here’s your chance to chime in on your experience learning about our professional writing, researching, and publishing culture. What was missing in your own education? What’s missing in today’s students? What’s missing in my course? Even if you don’t feel like sharing them below, I’m always looking for feedback, sources, and ideas to incorporate into the class. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them my way.
(1) Couture, C. and Ducharme, D. (2005). Research in archival science: A status report. Archivaria 59, 63-64. Reprinted in Gilliland, A. and McKemmish, S. (2004). Building an infrastructure for archival research. Archival Science. 4. 149-197.
(2) Currently, my course is the only one which addresses Core Competency I, which is intended for students to “Understand research design and research methods and possess the analytical, written, and oral communication skills to synthesize and disseminate research findings.”
(3) Salo, D. (2014). LIS 644: Digital trends, tools, and debates. [Syllabus]. Accessed from http://files.dsalo.info/644syllsum2014.pdf
(4) Babbie, E. R. (2013). The practice of social research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. In this reading, Babbie talks about: Social Darwinism, Positivism, Postmodernism, conflict, Symbolic Interactionism, Ethnomethodology, Structural Functionalism, Feminism, and Critical Race Theory among others.