Should We Bid Farewell to the Academic Paper?

Is the academic paper the best way for students to demonstrate their learning?  Will learning to write papers help students develop the skills they will need later in their lives?

One of my heroes, Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times (whose Sunday Magazine column, The Medium, is sorely missed) writes this week that “Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade.”  She is reviewing a book called Now You See It, in which Cathy N. Davidson asks “whether the form of learning and knowledge-making we are instilling in our children is useful to their future.”

Davidson examines the roots of our contemporary education culture and suggests that we need to look back to pre-Industrial-Revolution models and forward to the murky future.  As Heffernan explains it:

The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century. During that period of titanic change, machines suddenly needed to run on time. Individual workers needed to willingly perform discrete operations as opposed to whole jobs. The industrial-era classroom, as a training ground for future factory workers, was retooled to teach tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules.  That curriculum represented a dramatic departure from earlier approaches to education. In “Now You See It,” Ms. Davidson cites the elite Socratic system of questions and answers, the agrarian method of problem-solving and the apprenticeship program of imitating a master. It’s possible that any of these educational approaches would be more appropriate to the digital era than the one we have now.

This is old news – education needs to be skills-based, collaborative, constructivist, blabla.  However, Heffernan focuses particularly on Davidson’s discussion of the academic paper.  After reading insightful, well-written student blogs and then being appalled by the quality of their research papers, Davidson began to wonder whether it was the form, not the students, that was at fault.  After some rigourous research, Davidson concludes that, in Heffernan’s words,

Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as “distraction.”

I am not, at first glance, convinced by this argument – we’ve all read the “work” published every day on the Internet, and in many cases its “prolificness” is one of its many problems.  That said, I have students keep blogs in some of my courses, and I love them – you can SEE the learning happening as students wrestle with course topics and literature and relate them to their own experiences.  I don’t do blogs in every course because a) I am required to have them write a certain number of papers, and it can all get to be a bit too much for me, and b) the majority of my students have not received the time-consuming training in digital communication that Davidson says they need.  However, if more space were made in the curriculum for online forms of writing, and we could limit the number of formal papers and make them an outgrowth of the online work, we might be on our way to something resembling “authentic learning tasks.”

So I need to get my hands on Davidson’s book, which is not being released until next week.  I have been saying for a while that the research paper is going the way of the dinosaurs, and that we need to develop viable academic approaches to the blog and other online forms so that students can learn to write things that people actually read.  (The fact that no one reads academic papers is not a new phenomenon, of course, but now we have an alternative that gives researchers a real potential audience.)

What is the place of the formal academic paper in the future of education?  Should it continue to look the way it does now, or is it time to ask students to do something new?


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179 responses

  1. This is a really tough question. Academic papers do have some features that blogs don’t have, features that are important. It would be hard to create an educational experience that had students learning to wrestle with these features by writing blogs (unless the blogs were just on-line research papers, which I don’t think is what these authors have in mind). Here are some of the things that I don’t think blogs can accomodate very well, if at all: a long time frame (academic papers take from 2 weeks to a semester to research, write, revise, and edit); non web-based research; the opportunity to mull over background reading; the opportunity (sometimes) to consult the professor for feedback on how the paper is going; personal research like experiments, surveys, preparation of a case study, etc. You can probably think of more. That’s not to say that every academic paper incorporates all of these features. We’ve all seen plenty that are hastily and carelessly done and aren’t any better than a 9th grader’s ramblings on whatever. But the potential is there.

    Blogs are great for getting students into a place where they write fluently, and they create opportunities for teachers to give feedback and criticism that is a little lower-stakes and isn’t taken so personally. They are great for creating back-and-forth discussion where students call out each other on logical flaws in each other’s points or arguments, or where they add evidence, or where they identify each other’s lack of evidence or over-reliance on opinion. But blogging us a very communal activity, and sometimes what’s needed is for students to go it alone. Maybe we need fewer academic papers, but it would be terrible to let them become an afterthought, or to think that only those headed for academic careers need to learn how to do them.

    • JB:
      I agree – papers can do things that blogs can’t, although I think some of the skills you describe here can be developed through blogs, such as a long time frame (considering and ruminating on a topic over a series of posts, for example) and non-web-based research (I often write posts in response to things I have read offline.) A blog can be an extremely useful form in and of its own right, but at the same time, long-form coherent pieces such as major essays, research papers, or books also seem necessary for the reasons you describe. Maybe blogs need to be, not just their own ends, but also means to something more crafted.

      • As a college student who writes papers and also blogs for fun on the side, I would add a couple other ways that blogs and academic papers are different: in terms of content, blogging tends to focus on what the author thinks and feels, and academic papers tend to focus on what everyone else thinks and feels. Both are important, but the former creates more personal interest. Thus, both for this reason and because blogs tend to be shorter and more colorful, they can be more readable and enjoyable for the average person.

        This brings up another major issue in college education — should universities primarily prepare students to become scholars and professors, or should it aim to help them do a variety of other things? Which is more useful toward this goal – the academic paper format or the blog format? I think the two balance each other and are both useful. If you had to choose only one, I would probably still go with a research paper. But a blog would be a close second.

    • Educators – the medical profession – lawyers and other professions have all sought to make themselves look smarter then they actually are to the average person by concealing their profession in rituals and a language that can only be fully understood after years of study.

      For example the word laceration {a big long word} simply means a cut which can be anything from a paper cut to a gaping wound that needs stitches. Hence the invention of the academic paper intentionally written to be boring to the average person just so that the author can beat their chest while bragging about how better educated {though in reality poorly educated and lacking in common sense} they are compared to the common rabble. Which is the real reason that most people won’t bother reading academic papers unless they have a burning passion for the subject of the paper.

      In other words academics take something that is simple to understand and make it extremely complicated with arcane and extraneous information. This is what todays computer and internet technology is freeing us from and that is a good thing!

      • While I agree that there are academic papers whose intention is to make the simple and obvious things seem complicated, I would have to disagree with the idea that this is what happens “in general”. Writing is just one of the steps in this process, but a large portion of the effort actually goes to research, innovation and the experiments that are needed before the author becomes capable of writing anything. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. But I also have to appeal that authors should try to communicate with his readers without having to brag.

  2. I definitely agre that students need to write in forms that are actually read and have an everyday purpose, but I would not agree that the academic paper is unimportant. After all, if you plan to go into any advanced degree coursework, writing this type of paper is absolutely a necessity. In addition, the skills that students learn while conducting assignments such as analytical research papers for example, can translate to other areas of their future in the workforce. Good writing is good writing, period.

    • TG:
      “…if you plan to go into any advanced degree coursework, writing this type of paper is absolutely a necessity.” Absolutely. I think Heffernan and Davidson would say this is part of the problem, but it doesn’t change the fact that, sooner or later, students will have to write papers. Maybe someday this will no longer be true…?

      • I think it is possible! Right now I think it would require a fundamental change that is almost too ingrained in the world of Academia, which of course, doesn’t usually translate to real life or the work force.

      • It will probably be only a matter of time. When current (college) students become teachers and professors, there’s likely to be a more prominent shift into the digital direction.

  3. I would, of course, draw my sword in defense of the research paper were it threatened, but I agree that there are at least two important skills short-format writing teaches better: clarity and concision.

    • Asur: yes, short-form writing can certainly help with those skills, although I have to say that, having read a number of 150-word student blog posts that say absolutely nothing, it’s not a guarantee even in a limited space!

  4. I taught college journalism courses many years ago — and one of the reasons I stopped teaching was because I was so sad about the lack of interest, curiosity and writing skills exhibited by my students. Yes, I realize that’s why I was there…but it became exhausting, as I soon realized I was one of the only instructors who actually CARED.

    Keep fighting the good fight. I realize I bowed out of this battle, but I know there are others out there who can persist.

    • I agree with you teaching students who don’t have interest could be frustrating, but I learnt that sometimes it is better to allow the students express there ideas about a concept, and write freely rather than conditioning them on what to write and how to write it. That is why they find blogging most interesting than academic papers.

  5. To be honest, the internet made a lot of kids lazy. Seldom do you find them in libraries anymore because everything can be found with a click of a mouse. But based on my experience (I worked somehow as an article spinner for the net for sometime), that doing research online and in the library are really different from each other. I think researching in the library and writing academic papers teach people to be patient, and more conscious of their research material, compared to just getting a research material from the net.

    • Lala: There is certainly something to be said for that. I myself find that the instant gratification I get as a blogger makes me less patient when it comes to working on long-form work, but that patience, as you say, is an important skill.

  6. IMO, what form the writing takes isn’t as important as teaching the kids to organize their thoughts, put them on paper, and give them a structure that makes them readable and persuasive. One of the worst things we teach is the extremely rigid academic paper format (say what you’re going to say, then say it, then say what you just said…). We ought to be teaching kids to write creatively and compellingly, no matter what the subject, rather than dinging them points if they don’t write a summary at the beginning. I actually took a creative writing course in college where we had to write an introduction one-page essay on “where you’ve been and where you’re going”. I wrote mine in a slightly off-beat but not particularly crazy format and the teacher loved it, but told me that it was “risky.” The idea that *anything* is “risky” in a creative writing course makes me want to cry.

    The thing that really changed the whole landscape of writing for me was a college course that I took while I was in high school… it was essentially English 101 on basic composition, but for the first time I was reading interesting and creative essays that had structure but weren’t slaves to it. When you see kids writing “reports” or papers assigned in school, it’s almost always just a rote regurgitation of what they read on Wikipedia about some topic they’re not even remotely interested in. I’d go mental if I had to read and grade those, and when I was in school I had teachers write extremely long, effusive notes when they graded my papers about how great they were… and in my view they weren’t particularly compelling papers, so I hate to think what the norm is for those poor teachers.

    • Mackenzie:
      The energy and enthusiasm you describe are what makes reading student blogs so enjoyable. I am constantly hoping that there is a way, especially for weak writers, to integrate that energy with a logical (but, as you say, not slavish) structure. It is a constant challenge to find the balance…

      • Absolutely agreed. I’ve always loved learning and loved writing so I’d find it difficult to see the world from the point of view of students who aren’t interested in it, so I can’t say I have much in the way of answers. I always thought the best assignments were the ones that gave the students plenty of leeway to write about things that they actually found interesting, and pushed them to do something new. With a lot of assignments I had in school, there was a palpable sense that the teacher was assigning a paper just to assign it, that the teacher wasn’t interested in reading the results, and that the student’s interest in doing the writing was optional, so long as they put something down on paper. It’s not exactly an environment that encourages creativity.

        When I learned how to create a structure in my writing, it wasn’t to adhere to a writing manual, it was to make my work more readable and make it easier to touch the reader. It seriously changed my world. I really think that students would benefit if teachers could make writing more about the content and less about the form… but of course teachers have their hands tied to a certain extent too. It kind of hurts my brain just to think about it. 😀

      • This is in reply to both you and Mackenzie: the difficult part of teaching form in writing is getting the students to the place where they understand the form well enough to make it their tool rather than constantly feeling as though they must be the pawn of the writing form. I am constantly running up against this barrier with my students because, to some extent, form-learning is a rote process (like in sports, it must be practiced) and they would rather write things exactly as they come out of their heads. As Mackenzie said, the moment a student realizes that the form serves the purpose of the writing and helps to clarify the message, they stop hating the form.

        In my first year of teaching, I had several students who thought that they had found a formula for writing essays, a formula that made them not have to think or be creative. In that situation, I found myself in the opposite battle–a battle to get them to care about their topic enough to take risks and to write honestly, to vary their structure a bit.

        One more thought on this topic of limits and risks: a book on teaching kids the craft of an actor pointed out that the greatest performances often come from very specific character limitations, limitations that force the actor to be specific about the character. I have been pondering how this applies to writing, particularly as I look back at times in the history of English literature when following form well was greatly valued.

    • I’m with you: students need to learn to “organize their thoughts, put them on paper, and give them a structure that makes them readable and persuasive.” And the “rigid format” is indeed a hindrance rather than a help.

      One of my favorite assignments in the “Computers and Writing” course I took was to research & prepare an argument essay on paper, and then create a website presenting/supporting the same argument. The form influenced our approach, and both methods had their pros and cons.

  7. I think there will always be a place for the academic paper. My wee “students” are over a decade away from writing their own peer-reviewed reports, and my ESL students are more concerned with day-to-day reading and writing, so my perspective might be very different from yours. For my physical learners, especially, writing with pens and paper, striking out errors, printing out essays to blue-pencil, drawing with sticks in the mud, building letters with dough are all integral to the way they learn. I’m not sure that the process of putting together an academic paper, making the cover page and binding it for submission can be separated from the process of learning. For some students, making something worthy of holding in one’s hands informs more than just content and quality. That’s my two-cents, anyway 🙂

    • Desi: “For some students, making something worthy of holding in one’s hands informs more than just content and quality.” I love this idea, and have never given it much thought. Maybe this is also an argument for portfolios and physical journals? Very interesting.

    • I love this! I have been pondering this lately as I see the age of learning via computer and video increasingly take over the age of experiential learning. As I watch my students engage in biology experiments themselves, I can see a great value to them actually DOING the experiments over merely observing them. I have a writing student who feels the same way about the physical act of writing =)

  8. As someone who worked my ass off during college and graduate school, I vehemently oppose this view. All forms of writing — old and new — are important, for sure. Students who are intelligent and driven enough should be able to write and format their research in a formal academic way — “dumbing” it down so that all students can succeed seems a bit silly to me.

    Phasing out the academic paper — THAT would give students the wrong idea of the real world!

    • Nick: I can see where you’re coming from on this, and I’ve never been very comfortable with the “real world”/”academe” distinction – it’s all real, of course! I’m not sure I agree, though, that eliminating the academic paper equates with “dumbing down.” It can, of course, but I think there are ways to require rigorous research and clear writing, and even some sort of formal formatting, but through a different medium…I’d be interested to hear what others have to say on this.

  9. Clearly I need to read Davidson’s book. I taught composition for years, but have been out of the classroom for the past two–as this change has accelerated. If we continue to have students write research papers only because they will have to write them in graduate school, the question remains whether or not that form best suits graduate students, as well. I’m not sure we can argue that we have to teach a form of writing only because students need it for future schooling. Is that a good enough reason? And how long will it be before advanced academic research changes as well? And isn’t it already changing? I haven’t been a grad student in decades, but it seems to me change there is inevitable.
    Thanks for sharing the review of this forthcoming book! (And congrats on FPed!)

    • Kathryn: “…how long will it be before advanced academic research changes as well? And isn’t it already changing?” My thoughts exactly. Universities move slowly, of course, but I expect that, like the rest of the world, they are beginning to speed up…

      • So I suppose the question is–why do the universities have their students use this type of writing? Is there not an inherent value to the skills learned through the paper-writing process? I know that others have brought up this topic in earlier discussion, but I will add my agreement to their assertion that academic papers have inherent value. Whether or not a student uses the academic form in the “real world,” the value for documentation taught by the paper, that alone, is a skill that must not be lost in any modifications we make in paper-writing =)

        This argument seems to be the same argument that math teachers hear about whichever aspect of mathematics the students would rather not have to learn (I’ve heard it most often with Algebra and Geometry): “why are we having to learn this when we won’t ever use this information again?” The truth is that these forms train our minds in clear thinking processes that we will use as adults even though we may not recognize them as algebraic equations or may never structure them as a formal paper.

        If we are to get rid of the formal paper completely, I firmly believe that we must somehow retain the skills it teaches.

  10. This is such an interesting and articulate post. Thank you.

    If find it interesting, and significant, that any form of composition will entail rhetorical constraint. In line with Kevin Kelly’s book, “What Technology Wants,” we might see the academic paper and short-form composition as having a quite essential thing in common – that is, they both advance constraints, necessitating that students answer and participate in the form in particular ways.

    I’m not sure what to make of this just yet, for the introduction of new technologies and new methods of composing into the writing classroom certainly does seem like an important step. It seems to me, however, that anything that can foster an understanding of rhetorical situation, and how we construct our selves in writing, is a positive and effective way to exercise the skills and agency nurtured in the classroom. I’m not sure if I’m convinced that the academic paper is to blame for any failure to promote learning or growth in these specific ways, but I think it is a very good sign that we are challenging it and engaging a discussion about its effectiveness.

    • Kzabrow: I’m with you on this – I don’t know where things are going, and I don’t think one form is best or wrong, but I think short forms have a lot to offer, and I think the major issue with the academic paper is that it is written for a very small audience. That said, it is, as you say, a form with particular requirements, and learning to play in different fields is a skill students can benefit from.

  11. I once had a speech professor who believed the best way to learn intercultural communications was from each other. Instead of a final reasearch paper, he gave us a group assignment to create a culture of our own. Shorter papers were essetially journals of our everyday experiences in intercultural communications. Granted, this form would not work for every class, but it was a rich experience and I learned a lot from it. Through tutoring English on the high school and college level, I’ve come to believe that a good writing education includes many different forms and genres: long papers, short papers, research papers, opinion papers, presentations, literary analysis, etc, to prepare students for the varying demands of the professional world.

    • Pezcita: That sounds like a tremendous assignment. I agree that variety is essential when we’re learning writing, and often mourn that I only have 15 weeks with my students and so many requirements to meet that variety suffers, especially when I factor in the time and energy it takes to give good feedback…

  12. Fascinating topic, speaking as someone who has dealt with the current literacy crisis wherein writing is precicely the deficit skill of those entering college. The online paper-mills are thriving, and so long as the invisible hand directs the show, they aren’t going anywhere. Over 50 percent of seniors in my classes were unable to write a complete sentence, yet had to produce papers, and did so with live, online paper-writers who for a greater fee make themselves available long-term. The topic of no more papers or much less would allow a de facto boycott of these companies. However, I find that the paper is inextricable in its very make-up.
    The paper constitutes, for the Westerner, the only way full and true sense is developed and communicated. Period. The thesis development, the transitional structure itself being as basic as a posted street-sign, the global and particular unfolding of the theme, with reflection on its development, are not some arbitrary inventions endemic to an historically unique condition. They constitute the way we understand anything beyond the mundane at all, and we need not even cite the propositional calculus.
    If speech is at base exploratory, if it is thee locus of all thinking, than the question perhaps becomes one of how far removed can we get from the paper defined as thematic, deliberate narrative structure. I think articulation and any sort of profound sense themselves hang in the balance. The issue of clarity, of succinctity or that rare ability to turn a fecund phrase only come about with the cohesive unit that is a well-developed narrative thematic. Audience or not, that may be an entirely different volume. The immediate or omnipresent audience in an online format may offer a more practical pressure on the writer, but if one cannot reach the imagined intelligent, uninformed observer in solitude, why send them straight to the presses. This move may totalize one’s scruples before the rubber can meet the road, cowtowing to one’s need to commune, falsley granting the assumption that one’s every whim is publishable.

    • Rdrephrem:
      The topic of paper mills is definitely relevant here, as is the exhaustion that comes from vigilance about online plagiarism. The academic paper gives rise to these problems and different forms make them less of a concern. I wonder if the elements of the paper that you describe are accessible in another form? As some other commenters have mentioned, “thematic, deliberate narrative structure” may be a wider field than we usually give it credit for. My instinct is to agree that the “paper” is not entirely replaceable, but I’d love to hear other views on this.

  13. I can’t see how writing blogs is even comparable to writing research papers. Research papers are not just about teaching students how to express their thoughts – they are also about the effort it takes to do the research and present a static thesis. Blogs can be changed on a whim; in the ‘real’ world managers want well-researched answers, and they don’t want a revision tomorrow.

    The purpose of a research paper is to provide the reader with an answer to some question using as much information as is necessary – and taking a stand on that answer. My boss doesn’t ask me for a report because he wants to see my writing skills. He wants information, and he wants to know that what I give him is right. It’s a one-way medium. But the purpose of a blog is to put ideas out to the audience using a medium that allows feedback. It’s a completely different function.

    I think that blogs should have a significant place in eduction – but they don’t come close to being a stand in for a research paper.

    • This is an interesting response, Mitch, particularly your comment that “the purpose of a blog is to put ideas out to the audience using a medium that allows feedback. It’s a completely different function.” This supports my sense that, as you say, blogs are useful and, at this point in time, maybe even necessary, but they are not a replacement for the skills specifically needed to write a paper. More food for thought.

  14. Interesting to ponder as I work on lesson plans for my first semester as a college English professor. It doesn’t seem like we have enough information yet to throw out traditional research papers, but we are in period of transition to seomthing else. Until the transition is made, it seems students have much more pressure on them: they have to learn to be competent in old forms which may not be at all applicable to their futures, but they are simultaneously and independently pursuing all that is necessary for them to be well-versed in this digital age. And maybe the decisions made in classrooms right will dictate the direciton of the transition.

    • The point you make about transition is important, I think, bbr. We don’t yet know where things are going, and it is not clear what will be left behind…

  15. I think the importance of the academic paper is not the actual paper itself, but what it represents. The skills of conducting research and presenting findings are extremely important in many faucets of adult life. I don’t particularly care if that presentation is done digitally, on white copy paper, or on the back of a napkin. The important thing is that our children are learning the skills they will need in order to conduct thorough, well-documented research, and then communicate what they have learned. Those skills can follow them throughout their lives, long after they have forgotten about the effect of the Bill of Rights on contemporary society.

  16. As a student, I can say that I have used blogs in the classroom, and I enjoyed doing so. We would be asked to reflect on a class or answer questions on our reading assignments, and it was really beneficial to have both students and the teacher commenting on and critiquing the posts. However, papers are certainly a different kind of writing than an academic blog, and I don’t think they should be one in the same. I think papers should be kept around as a separate form of writing.

    Blogs are a more personal thing, even when they have an academic theme to them. Papers are purely an assignment, with little room for personalization aside from writing style. I believe papers are beneficial, however, because they do teach necessary skills such as how to follow a format, and how to research and incorporate information into a specified frame. Personally, I enjoy writing papers, as tedious as they can be sometimes. They make me feel more educated.

    There are solutions, however, if a person would like to make them more blog-like, as in having people discuss and comment and critique. We used Google Docs for my AP English class this year, and that could really open up the potential of papers. We usually only shared the papers with our teacher, but widening the sharing to an entire class could lead to more discussions, more idea sharing, and possible better papers. Having a friend or peer who knows how to write papers well assist you could be more beneficial than a teacher (since most students don’t care what the teacher says anyway… Sorry, it’s the truth). This could make students more comfortable with writing an academic paper, and it would still fulfill paper requirements. Plus, who doesn’t want to hop on the green bandwagon and go paperless? 🙂

    This is just my opinion about the topic. I know plenty of my friends would love to see the paper disappear, but I think it’s important to keep it around.

    P.S. I also have two personal blogs. I do a lot of writing in various formats.

    • Corlosky: I like the idea of using GoogleDocs to exchange and critique papers. I often have students give peer feedback on each other’s papers in my classes, and some say that the process really helps – in particular, it helps them understand the criteria they need to fulfill in their own papers.

  17. There’s definitely still a place for the academic paper – and it has been usurped by blogs, self-publishing and other methods of information dissemination. Still valuable, but not the only game in town.

  18. I think the best argument for teaching academic research paper writing is that research does occur (must occur) in the real world, and requires a certain form in order to be understandable and verifiable. Researchers read research, just as bloggers read blogs. Some students will choose research as a career, just as some students will choose Business Administration or Film Production. We teach Calculus although few use it as adults, and we should teach research writing for the same reason. It should be part of an overall program of writing education in high school and perhaps more limited in college, according to the field of study chosen. For example, an Art major who plans to create art rather than review it, should have the option of a less rigid and more creative writing structure.

    • Rayme: You’re making a point here that is quite relevant for me as a CEGEP teacher. CEGEP is an intermediate stage for Quebec students between high school and university, and at this stage they have chosen a major (although for a number of them it may change). I often work with Social Science students, and they do research papers in their Social Science courses, so in English class I work less with research and more with writing and analytical skills. That said, SS is such a broad field, especially at this early stage, that it is impossible to know what these students will pursue as careers, and so it seems that helping them develop their skills in all forms (academic papers, online communication, personal and professional writing) is essential.

  19. Is this pen and ink and memory versus voice activation and cut and paste? Or are students allowed to use computers and printers for their research papers these days. The abysmal results you talk about at the beginning of your article are generally the lack of cut and paste facilities when sat at a desk writing longhand. ‘Only to be expected’ has been the opinion of family and friends in education through the years, and they seem to have been right.

  20. Sounds like a really interesting book, would like to read a copy of it too. I’m all for using the internet as a new tool to help people develop their writing skills and educational foundations. But having said that those foundations are also influenced by what type of knowledge and media is consumed. I agree current educational methods are out-dated and comprehensive research needs to be done to increase teaching standards, but this too can be difficult in environments that are not conducive to effective learning. I’ve seen these type of environments hampering children’s access to a person-centred education most in my home country, South Africa, where many rural schools are resource-poor. The internet has incredible capabilities and many of them will be useful in changing current educational practices, but for meaningful change it can only be a cog in a larger machine that requires not only changes in education, but also changes in the very way people live their lives, and react to the natural environment, and each other.

    • Del Rio:

      This is the trouble – it’s very difficult to anticipate what is really needed in education right now, as we have no idea what the future holds, and I believe this is one of Davidson’s main points in her book.

  21. I’m all for asking students to do something new. If they knew people will read it, they’ll be careful in crafting their essays.

    I think it’s great that you have some student keep blogs in one of your courses. I liked your your suggestion for “more space…made in the curriculum for online forms of writing.”

    Some of my students in the in-class and after-school program I teach at have a lot to say, and are very bright individuals. One particular student even had the drive to want to start a fashion magazine.

    I told him what blogging offers: a free platform for your message, an expensive way of communicating that message, and a writing discipline. I told him that he can take a blog and transform it into one of the best online fashion magazines on the net.

    When it all comes down to it, society teaches our students that they’re to be seen and not heard. But if, and you suggested this in your post, students know they have an audience for their words, they’ll put more thought into their essays and into producing their best work.

    Thanks for this post!

    • Alan: this is what we hope: that writing begets writing, and that all forms of practice lead to better skills and more motivation overall!

  22. I wouldn’t take a teacher seriously if they tried to incorporate a blog into the classroom. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter, or any sort of social networking medium. I believe that taking elements of these mediums and putting in the classroom is okay, but straight up is not okay.

    A professor for my international politics/studies class last semester was a sort of new age teacher in that he didn’t like long academic papers, glorified NYTimes and other short (600-1200 word) publications. He argued that it is harder to write concisely than it is to write a twenty page paper. It’s true. After writing ten 800 word essays, I’ve mastered condensing whole paragraphs to single sentences.

    In response to some comments, I think the failure of the academic paper is the limited scope of writing for the student. Students are used to writing to answer the prompt. I know someone who freaked out because he had to write a 5 page paper without a prompt. I sat there, puzzled, thinking about my AP Literature class. We’d have to write four papers per semester (two analytical, two research-based) with the topic of our choice. When I read Jane Eyre, I didn’t write about how the author crafted the motif – I wrote about what I was interested in. I wrote about the socioeconomic circumstances of au pairs in England in the Victorian era, along with women struggles and rights, and tied it nicely into her struggles as overcoming social norms. When Moby Dick came around, I took on a philosophical edge and wrote about absurdism. I poured my heart into these papers because I wanted to write them. The same with my professor in college. It isn’t so much the paper as much as it is the topic and the limited scope. Give students freedom.

    • Michael:

      I’m sorry to hear that you wouldn’t take a teacher seriously if they tried to incorporate blogs, but I think that no matter what approach a teacher takes, it is not going to work for everyone. Some students learn best through some media and some through others; some need a lot of guidance and some do best if left to their own devices. The concept of “scaffolding” in education posits that we need to start where a student is and provide incremental steps and stages so they can learn new skills, but of course all students are in different places, so it can be difficult to do what’s best for everyone.

  23. I am someone who wants to change curriculum, but feels limited by the larger system.

    I teach high school English, and as I prepare for the year ahead I have recently been frustrated by a strange realization: the standard conventions of an academic paper (e.g. thesis statement as last sentence in first paragraph) are not likely to be encountered anywhere outside of academia.

    My composition course had evolved to the point that I was teaching students how to argue well, using a variety of modes (including narration) and enhanced by compelling stylistic techniques (e.g. schemes, tone shifts, loose vs. period sentences, dramatically short sentences, emphasis through punctuation). Rather than teaching them to write about other authors, I was building their ability to produce texts that OTHERS would find worthy of reading in a variety of publications.

    Sadly, I realized that from the standpoint of improving their grades in other classes and AP Exams, as well as succeeding in college, my sophomores would be better served if I stuck to the basics of the five-paragraph essay structure and minimized anything more interesting and exciting. That’s where I am right now, and no one has convinced me otherwise.

    • Timidstone: Ah, the tension between doing what you think will help students really learn, and doing what you think will improve their grades in other courses! I encounter this all the time. My students have to write an exit exam, and if I don’t do a certain amount of teaching to that exam, I am doing them a disservice. But I think doing other things would benefit them so much more in the long run! It’s discouraging.

  24. Well I work as a writer and I haven’t used any of the “formal skills” of writing a research paper since…well since I wrote that research paper ion Comp 2 my freshman year. But I don’t know what could or should take its place. It does still seem like a viable way to demonstrate learning in some circles — philosophy, psychology, sociology, literature, etc.

    Good stuff to think about though. Thanks.


  25. Interesting topic. It’s not a one-or-the-other situation here. I am a student and I think what’s important is that we learn a bit of everything. Academic papers teach you about form, while blogs are more for discussing. Both are really important.

    • I would have to agree with Day I Started Reading. I think blogging can be a great way to expand our knowledge and abilities to write. You get feedback from different sorts of people which teaches writers perspective.

      I do think that educational systems need to start incorporating more “cyber” works…

      Siobhan – you have an excellent blog. I just started my blog yesterday and I came upon yours. It’s very interesting and this post is well-written & well-thought out. I was wondering if you could check out my blog and provide feedback on it. You’re a great blogger and getting feedback from you would be great!

      • Raymond: Thanks so much! I took a look at your blog and I think you are on the right track. Keep writing, writing, writing; that is how our skills and voice develop, and as you say you are afflicted with an “incurable passion for writing,” I have no doubt that your blog will develop into something really special that represents you to the world very well. I wish you luck with it – blogging is fun!

  26. Paper writing was one of the few things I was really good at in college (economics, not so much). It was a long, hard road, learning to be a good paper writer, but by my last semester I truly relished the oppotunity to while away hours in the library, rooting out books, requesting books from other schools and threading together my arguments. It was so gratififying when, after a full sesmster’s worth of research and re-writes, I got to turn in my papers.

    I know that writing isn’t everyones forte, but it would really be a shame to see the research paper disappear. If nothing else, it teaches students how to allocate their time and work on long-term projects, which I think is especially important now that everything is instantly accessible. And I’m 24, so I’m not trying to preach (lord knows we get enough of that!)

    Great post, well deserved FP!

  27. My gut says that academic papers can never be replaced by on-line writing. But I know part of that stems from my fear that the internet is taking over the world. It disturbs me how much time people spend on the internet interacting with people who are far away and forgetting how to talk to people who are right next to them. I don’t want to see academia fall prey, as well.

    I do agree that change is good, and we need to meet students where they are to some extent. I am for tools that allow students to develop their skills as writers, as long as we keep in mind that they ARE just tools.

    Very thought-provoking post.

  28. Your post raised a good question: if students can write internet blogs, why can’t they write the formal academic paper? There is one key difference between the two forms. The first is spontaneous and free; the second is strict. Meeting the requirements of the second requires one extra skill, perhaps two: deliberate planning and structuring of thought, and maybe project and pressure management. The ability to blog but not write a formal paper suggests a lack of one of the two. From what I’ve seen, both are lacking. English classes dispense with the solid skills of grammar and large-scale structuring in favour of ideas, resulting in students who struggle to organize their thoughts, especially when they become as numerous as are needed for an academic paper. Aside from structuring, procrastination is possibly more prevalent than ever before, showing the lack of project management. The decline of these skills explains the prolific blogs but poor academic papers.

    The question to ask, then, is whether the academic paper can be made obsolete. The strict coherence of its form makes it difficult, but it also makes it the best form for presenting research findings, among other categories of information. Dispensing with it would get rid of careful, controlled thought and possibly also with clear, effective communication. In so doing, every aspect of human life would suffer loss. Moreover, lowering the standard to student ability does not encourage growth. It is common practice in many education systems, especially public systems, and contemporary employers are acknowledging the deprecating value of the high school diploma. There is a heavy cost to dispensing with the academic paper, one that should not be borne.

    • cla:
      You make some good points here, especially as regards the difference in the skills required for the two forms. Perhaps the question is: do ALL students need to learn to write academic papers? I suspect your answer would be yes, but I’d be interested to hear what others have to say about this.

      • The answer is completely based on the definition of “need”. I return to the points about clear communication, ordering and assembling thoughts into a coherent presentation, and I add that the type of thinking used in writing a top academic paper is very sophisticated and challenging, making it an excellent means of sharpening the mind. If you think all college students need to be able to communicate clearly and logically, to organize their thoughts, and to have their ability to think pushed to the limit for growth’s sake, then the answer is yes.

  29. The time and effort necessary to produce a ten or twenty page academic paper does teach students a certain sort of persistence and patience, which is important. When I start writing I feel as though the pages will never get filled, but they do. And patience is sadly lacking in our world.

    That said, I hate certain aspects of academic papers, such as the endless repetition of what you said, are saying, and are going to say. Though I find, depending on the class and the professor, this structure can be bent to a certain degree.

    • Persistence and patience – I agree that these are valuable skills we can get from writing papers. I’m always delighted when a pile of notes I’ve been scrabbling with begins to form itself into a coherent, organized essay – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment that brings!

  30. Thanks for this great post. I have shared it with my colleagues.

    Blogs offer a lot that academic publishing and papers do not. They allow for a broad spectrum of voices to share thoughts easily, quickly and on an ongoing basis. They can act as a great way to receive feedback from a wide audience. This feedback, combined with the ‘journal like’ nature of blogs, allows us to refine our thinking in a way that academic papers do not.

    Having said this, one good thing does not replace another. It’s just a matter of how we re-balance our teaching to include a wider spectrum of learning tools.

  31. I teach religion and philosophy at university and, in my experience, most students can’t write even a moderately good paper anyway. There are some that surprise you on either end, but most can’t. I teach online courses, so I find myself grading to a rubric and giving Cs and Ds to papers that should probably fail. Sometimes I wind up giving Cs to papers that should probably receive a B, or even an A, on their content alone, but fail in style.

    That being said, I think that, in the area that I teach, academic papers will always be important. However, I do think that we need to be open to using other forms of education. A class blog where students could discuss among themselves is a good idea. As is having students keep their own blog as they wrestle through issues in the class. I think that we also need to be open to using the media as a tool to teach with. I keep a mental list of movies and fiction novels that have significant philosophical content, or that address important issues, so that I can recommend them to my students. I also find myself frequently recommending the first five seasons of the Simpsons as an excellent source of quality, satirical commentary on the Christian Church.

    I think that using these types of sources, in conjunction with those that are more sternly academic, can begin to make academia accessible to younger students (college Freshmen for example), and help them develop the skills they need to address deeper issues.

  32. Very interesting post!

    My blog started as a school assignment and I definitely feel that I put more time, effort, and thought toward it than any homework that I’ve ever had. I continued writing the blog after the term ended because it ended up developing an audience (other than my professor) throughout the process of sharing and being involved in an online community. We had the option to choose any topic as long as it had something to do with the class subject, public relations. Because these assignments were public and relevant to a community that I was already involved in, it was more important to me that I produced something that people would like.

    I agree that University level education should get more involved in online technology. I also feel that some of the academic papers I’ve written have also taught me a lot. I don’t believe they should become obsolete, but I do think that they could be replaced with other projects that are more involved in sharing information to online communities. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

  33. Loved this article!! 🙂

    I am a teaching assistant at a university and I feel I also struggle to convince my students that the reading/writing skills they learn in my classroom will be relevant to them later in life. I do feel that it is important to revise curricula according to new, more technologically-minded trends, but I also feel that so many important elements, such as proper grammar and spelling, are being thrown by the wayside due to changing times. But it’s also unfair to suggest that only written papers contain rich and thoughtful material; there is so much out there on the web which is well-worth a read. To this end, I often have a hard time explaining to my students why online source material is not appropriate for their research papers (standard practice in universities, unless the material comes from a published academic journal). It looks like this is one debate which doesn’t have an easy answer…

  34. Excellent post. I certainly enjoyed your blog. I write courses for professional engineers and find almost all of my references “off-line”. The blogs I write concern education, engineering and engineering education. Again, almost all of the material I use is sourced off-line. Occasionally, I find an excellent blog, such as yours, that is insightful, well written and relevant to the work I do. I will definitely be a “frequent flyer” to your posting.
    Bob Jackson, PE

  35. Great article! I agree that the academic paper could use a make-over. In my personal experience, I feel that writing papers has taught me how to be more technical than creative. I was always an A student when it came to english but that was because I was able to pick up the rules and guidelines of writing easily. My papers always looked the same and I always got A’s. Maybe blogging could help with creativity and readability since you can write things the way they flow in your mind instead of making your thoughts fit into some generic, flat format.

  36. As a college student raised to think about studing, going to college, and even have a PHD, I’ve always thought that college would request a lot of huge papers. Turns out, I’ve chose to graduate in Fashion Design and, of course, the world of “practical”, art related courses is completely different from the pure academic and/or scientific world.
    I ended up really unmotivated, because I was having great grades and felt like I wasn’t doing anything at all [maybe, I was doing something, but I always felt like I could do a lot more]. I felt bad because I didn’t have hundreds of pages to read, I was able to sleep, and I was doing things that I really enjoyed.
    I do understand the drama of doing a paper that hasn’t got an audience. Yet, papers are objective and the like. I’m not saying that everyone should have a lot of them, but doing one once in a while wouldn’t hurt anyone.
    At my high school Philosophy classes, we had something like a blog. In the end of the class, the teacher used to give us some time to reflect about the class, and write about it. Yet, she often said she didn’t want it to be a place where we would only spit the theme: it had to be personal, unique. I tried a lot to have a decent one and, when I finally got it, it changed everything. I never returned to the unpersonal reflections of her classes. Instead, I used them to relate the subject with my very own life, and it was exactly the time I reflected about things with philosophical eyes. It contributed a lot to improve my writing skills and to develop even more my passion for writing, giving it a certain maturity.
    In the end, papers mean a lot to the brain. But blogging, writing, reflecting sets your mind free and means a lot for the soul.
    Very interesting post! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  37. I am overwhelmed! Thank you all so much for your comments – I am astonished not only by their number but also by how thoughtful and articulate you all are in your responses. I will endeavour to reply individually to everyone, but it may take me a couple of days! I’m honoured to be Freshly Pressed and delighted that you all have so much to say on this subject. Thank you!!

  38. I thoroughly remember the Shakespeare essays I did in high school. Essays allowed me to be creative and referencing showed that I knew what I was talking about. Sometimes when I thought a sentence made sense, I’d reference it. But then I’d get marks off since it was a bit out of context. Whenever that happened, it was because I skimmed that chapter — I deserved it.
    Then I took science in University and all the writing I ever did were lab reports which is an art of regurgitating information very succinctly. The art and social sciences electives I took allowed me to be creative with my thoughts again, which was refreshing!

    In science, I retained the information from what I’ve memorized for exams.
    In other subjects, I retained information from what I’ve written myself.

  39. I definitely agree with this. The creativity of students especially with the technological advancement of today can be well used through blogs. And the internet can also be a tool for students to write and express themselves that’s why there are blogs. ;D

  40. I confess I haven’t read all of the comments above so I may be repeating someone’s thoughts.

    First, I totally support any initiative to totally re-engineer the university education process, so anything that challenges a sacred cow is worth while.

    But, in connection with the re-engineering, we have to keep in mind (if we actually know) what the objectives of a university education are and what skills/knowledge is it intended to impart. In an era where in the interest of generating dollars universities are willing to teach remedial reading to entering freshmen, that is an important question.

    The most important aspect of the re-engineering requires a practical, intelligent assessment of the role of technology in the university. The social networkization of the university curriculum may be fun for students and ease the workload of professors but it is in the long term interests of everyone involved. Just because technology lets you do something doesn’t mean that you should do it.

    Which brings us back to the research paper. As painful as papers are for students and professors, they remain a way for a student to go through the process–and very importantly then demonstrate–of intellectually embracing a topic, researching it, synthesizing what others have said about the topic and formulating ideas about the topic and communicating them. This is an important life skill that should be nurtured to create competent leaders, managers, consumers and community members.

    To date, there doesn’t seem to be a viable techno alternative. Tweeting how you “feel” about Hamlet or holding a group discussion via chat room or worse, doing a Google search just doesn’t get people where they need to be to be self sufficiently educated.

  41. Any work produced in college/university must address the knowledge/skills being taught – as required in the (specific) field. If you are teaching aspects of research/writing, then the ‘academic paper’ is a necessity (although keeping students from ‘ripping off’ any number of web-available documents becomes a HUGE issue). In other courses/programs, the required deliverables should reflect the realities of what will be expected ‘on the job’. I have taught in computer science/ technology and business (college level) – in the former, the ability to produce a working product was far more important than researching/writing about it; in the latter, a firm grasp of communication and research skills was a requirement (I would have to say that I think blogs only apply in a marketing context; they aren’t what I could consider ‘formal’ research/communcation tools in most business environments). Unfortunately, far too much emphasis is placed on doing what has ‘always been done’ vs. what is required for employability. Congrats on being ‘Freshly Pressed’ – this is a great post and you’ve certainly given people a platform for both enlightened conversation and honest opinion-sharing.

  42. As a veteran of many, many academic papers, I think the solution lies somewhere in between traditional academia and new media/blogging/social media. I agree that many of the Millenials can’t write a thesis to save their collective behinds, but part of it is that academic writing is becoming a lost art anyway. This gives me quite a bit to think about. Congrats on being FP as well.

  43. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter!

    I’m not sure if blogs are the answer, but I am definitely in agreement that academic papers may not be the best method for today’s world. Although I don’t mind writing them, I always felt it was the least natural form of communication. Formatting and structure are very important in conveying a clear idea but the extent to which some teachers go is absurd. Should I really be marked down on my paper because I use a font that the teacher doesn’t like or because I prefer a 3/4 inch border to a 1 inch border? Does the color of the font or the spacing between the heading and the title affect the content of the paper? I think not.

    One thing to consider for those that vehemently defend the academic paper and are afraid it will dumb down education, are the numerous graduate programs that offer non-thesis options. The alternative is usually either some type of real-world project in the given field or a comprehensive oral defense of the subject matter. Those who have graduated with these degrees would not be considered any less valid or be seen to have less knowledge. In many cases, those that opt for the oral defense actually have to have a better grasp (at least at the time of the exam) of the material then those writing the thesis. Obviously these students are still being required to write academic papers throughout their schooling but if an alternative to an academic thesis is valid to complete the graduate degree, why not for less important examinations?

  44. This is an extremely insightful article, and I couldn’t agree with it more. I am currently a high school student who started a blog on my own this summer. To be honest, I think it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my entire life, just short of learning how to use a toilet. Here’s why:

    a) A blog illustrates progress, development, and growth. In turn, you have a measurable way of accounting for how much a student is actually learning. With a research paper, you have one shot to show the teacher what you’ve got. For many students, one report simply is not enough to paint a clear picture of the true levels of thinking that student is capable of, and there really is nothing for comparison’s sake. Looking back at my old blog posts has made me realize how far I’ve come in just the two short months that I’ve been blogging.

    b) When a students’ work is public online, they are subject to evaluation from their peers, as well as the teacher. Therefore, they may be more apt to better themselves in order to stay on the tops of the ranks, versus just coasting by. I’ve learned that having an audience is a definite motivator. Not to mention, peers have a lot to learn from each other. When seeking out the other blogs, the students could comment on each others’ work, or pick up on points they may have missed themselves. In other words, social interaction is the key.

    c) It’s just plain fun! Keeping a blog is like writing a journal, yet I’m still able to be informative to my readers as well, if I so choose to be. To me, writing papers is so structured and time-consuming; whenever I tailored a report to my teacher’s specific groove, I was never, I repeat NEVER, satisfied with the outcome. On my blog, I can be more liberal how I say things, without compromising the quality of what I say.

    Anyways, those are just the thoughts of one 16-year old girl who agrees that our current school system needs to finally admit it needs a face-lift.

    • gwts:
      I am really impressed by this comment – I wish all my students were as thoughtful and articulate as you are! I agree with your comment about how a blog allows a more complete, evolving picture of a student’s learning than a one-shot paper does. I wish you the best of luck with your blog – I too have found that blogging is a very valuable practice for me as a writer, student and teacher!

  45. Great post! To a certain extent, I agree; the academic paper might be becoming “old hat.” But yet I don’t think it’s going to entirely disappear. Why? Well, when I took a couple religious studies classes at the University of Oregon last winter, I came across quite a few scholarly works (books, masters theses, and dissertations). My ability to write an academic paper actually helped me read the academic work of others. My papers weren’t anywhere near the depth that the scholars’ work was, but knowing what went into the construction of an academic article (all the various elements of structure, flow, etc.) allowed me to understand the full argument more deeply. Sure, tomorrow’s scholars will be writing on different platforms and in varying styles, but I have to believe that the art of today’s and yesterday’s academic paper will not be lost entirely. On some level, it’s a way of bridging the gap between today and yesterday – modern times and historical times.

  46. I totally disagree. As an English teacher, I have watched a colleague use a blog instead of a paper to assess her students’ progress. There was absolutely no depth to their research or dialogue. Instead of the student doing the critical thinking, the students expected the teacher to “fine tune” their research by asking the relevant questions. So, in essence, the teacher did the thinking and the students just looked up answers to her questions. A paper requires the students to develop a self-created thesis that has to be defended. Presenting the paper requires a logical organization of information and presentation of argument. The rhetorical strategies that a student learns to use in defense of his/her thesis is worth the effort of writing the paper.

  47. Very interesting post. As an online editor and proofreader, I’m obviously hoping to keep the academic paper around for a while (a good 20 years would be nice!), but I can certainly empathize with students who find scratching their eyes out preferable to writing a research paper. The most difficult aspect of the task, in my opinion, is discovering a topic. And by “discovering” I mean doing preliminary research, searching through a bottomless pile of books, articles, journals and newspapers, then starting over, then feeling like it wasn’t worth it, then rushing to meet the deadline.

    In my junior year of college at Lehigh University, I took an Economic Evolution course for which I had to write a couple extensive research papers. I quickly found that the actual writing of the paper wasn’t that terribly important – it was the independent, critical thinking and idea formulation that my professor was targeting. I’ll never forget the countless hours I spent in the library searching for the prices of grain pre- and post-Erie Canal in order to study the canal’s impact on transaction costs. I earned an A for the paper – not because of my writing, my professor said, but because of the amount of time, effort and thought that I devoted to the research and idea development. I really did want to scratch my eyes out, but I learned the value of independent academic exploration… that might sound like hot air, but I would certainly want my future children to have this learning experience.

  48. Excellent post!

    This is a good question. At first thought, my response is that academic papers are important. They aren’t meant to be read by the general public. They’re a tool for the student to gain a thorough understanding of the topic via academic means. Now this of course can be taken with a grain of salt. As a grad student, I’m swamped in academic papers – both my own and those of my students. I’m not sure if I’m conditioned to them or not, but I can’t imagine simply blogging as a grad student instead of writing academic papers. If I get my blog to gain 500,000 hits will it equal a dissertation? With that said, I think giving students academic papers in my courses is silly as my courses are generally music electives… so I give them hands-on projects instead. Anyway.. this is a good question and I’ll be thinking about it for a bit.. congrats on being freshly pressed!

    Cheers –

  49. We shouldn’t say bye to the academic paper; it is essential to students to keep writing because it truly shows the student’s ability to come up with ideas, process information and reach conclusions. Whether people fail is not because they lack these abilities; it’s because they did not get the skills to employ them earlier on.

    Check out my blog

  50. I personally love writing academic papers. I have various learning disabilities and do not test well. It is through writing papers that I am able to express my knowledge on a topic and present it in an effective manner. It is because of people like me that I think that writing academic papers as just another form of showing one’s knowledge.

    Even though I like academic papers a lot, I am also very open to other means of showing knowledge. This could be things such as making a video, a blog, or art project. Some people just need to do more hands-on things and that is fine by me, they should be given the option to do so to fit their learning style.

  51. Half my “academic papers” at uni are video productions, portfolios, photo essays, then I get the odd written reflection or exam.

    Says something about the destination we’re heading to….

  52. What is important about writing well and succinctly for a research paper, is how to discover, research, analyze critically selected external resources and integrate one’s analysis into a well-crafted paper with persuasion and clarity.

    Speak with any college or university librarian. You will find quickly the challenge of teaching students these days how to analyze information sources critically for authenticity and reliability. There are many forms of writing in the business world that demand meticulous research and proper analysis.

    For instance, what a judge writes for a court judgement: that court case is based on legal research, not just facts of the case at hand. And that court case is there for public use by future generations to quote over and over by others. So the analysis, research and writing had better be tops! It can have a long-lasting impact on other people’s lives.

    I am reminded of discussion in the legal sector, of how lawyers and judges cannot cite Wikepedia as a research source in their court briefs and final court judgements. Why? One cannot verify the authors’ credentials for Wikipedia content and Wikipedia content is ever-changing content on the Internet.

    Always, always remember that the electronic free Internet content disappears or can move around. The academic paper serves to ground the student learner with the reality of research content that is stable, that will exist 5, 10, 20 years from now.

    I think blogging is a wonderful tool as an additional mechanism to teach how to write for general or for niche audiences. Or how to write with simplicity on highly conceptual or complex topics. It is a tool for how to write for the masses but also how to write for a particular internal/closed audience. It’s just an electronic vehicle: you can still have a research paper as a blog post. What is wrong with that??

  53. As a college teacher who requires students to write extensively, I both agree and disagree with the premise outlined by this author. I see value in the research paper process. Research requires students to become familiar with the idea that much has been said that needs to be reviewed before they say anything about the same subject. Drawing conclusions forces critical thinking and originality of thought. Citations and formatting requires students to be detailed oriented. They also need to learn the academic style of their disciplines. So I think the research paper is inherently valuable. At the same time, there is also value in requiring students to write cohesively in different styles. This is where blogging would be so beneficial. In my music history course I have often required students to write in both academic and popular styles. They write a research paper as well as a set of program notes. The research paper shows that they have the intellectual rigor they need to have in order to be competitive; the program notes show they can communicate with the average audience member and make their field relevant to everyday life.

  54. I definitely agree with this. I’m a high school student, but I’ve been blogging for quite a while (outside the classroom). While, as a strong writer, I enjoy the challenge that academic papers bring, I agree that they may not be relevant to the real world anymore.

    Several of my teachers, from middle and high school, are taking steps in this direction. In 7th grade there was a classroom “chatroom” to discuss the books we’d read as a class, in 8th grade the librarians started a blog for students to write book reviews and request new additions, and in 9th grade, my biology teacher had us prepare for the year by posting science current event articles on a Ning forum and then replying thoughtfully to others’ posts.

    But there’s still a lot to be done in that direction, especially with some of the older teachers who have yet to embrace the new age. Congrats on the FP and I hope the word about this gets out to more people involved in the education system!

  55. As a recent college English grad, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the value of my education. I always acknolwedged the divide between the classroom and the digital ‘real world’ but after graduating I find recently acquired skills in paper-writing to be questioned in a world that is dominated by short blurbs of scannable lists.

    The educational system is definitely at fault. However, the classroom shouldn’t necessarily change to adapt to the digital age. Our current culture needs a new way of writing and distributing academic papers. The highest authority of online knowledge is often considered to be Wikipedia. We need more articles that offer more original insight and interpretation of research rather than SEO powered blog posts that only seek to rehash trending topics. This may just be me being sore about wasting 4 years, but I still feel a demand for ‘higher’ academic papers in a digital age.

  56. My students can exhibit the same behavior, having excellent blogs while turning in papers of average quality. What strikes me here is not whether requiring formal papers achieve their academic goals, but rather the fact that students write very well when things are not “required” of them.
    Free flowing blogs about topics of their choosing can result in excellent literary work. Box this into a formal school requirement though, and their interest dampens. This results in academic papers having the lack of quality the same students reflect on their blogs.
    I agree that the academic papers should stay. I also agree that digital media related to this context should be embraced.
    I, however, call for every teacher to exert extra effort in framing the academic paper in such a way that it feels like less of a burden. Perhaps this way the papers will shine as bright as their blogs.


    -Andrei (clevermedicine)

  57. The computer allows students to teach themselves. The computer is a tool they use to perfect their skills, which they naturally want to do. I feel the argument has to do with the psychology of education as an idea that has been debated for so long and reveals itself simply through life itself. A person with human characteristics, as opposed to a computer can offer the emotional support but can be judgmental and reveals, burdens faults of their own onto the student. The power of the computer is exciting and fun because a student can express themselves. And in my opinion is one tool of many that include the Arts. The problem with certain education models is that they don’t encompass these opportunities. School becomes a jail term where ‘the real learning’ takes place and life after school where we can find our true selves. Thanks for your thought provoking post.

    • I’m sorry but I totally disagree. Saying that computers allow students to teach themselves is like saying that libraries allow students to teach themselves or that reality television can teach students life skills.

      • Thomas

        Abe Lincoln taught himself at home in front of the fireplace by reading books that he borrowed and there is a whole industry dedicated to helping parents to teach their children at home in order to avoid being indoctrinated by evil minded educrats. So yes computer technology will simply make homeschooling all the easier and professional teachers all the more unnecessary.

  58. As a teacher, I think there have been some great benefits of doing blogs, especially the environmental benefits of staying digital, and the fact that you can check up on the work as it develops as you point out in the article.

    Generally (and there are obvious exceptions), demonstrating their learning hasn’t really been the issue for me. It could be presentation, blog, paper… but their ability to demonstrate their research has been waning. It is obvious that younger students don’t engage with books nearly as much as they need to. Their papers tend to mimic journalistic writing styles, nearly the only sizable text that they come into contact with on a regular basis. Therefore, writing the academic paper has been essential tool in demonstrating their ability to collect research, synthesize it and then develop an argument accordingly. It works as a strand of assessment that I think should be complemented by other methods of assessment all around it, just to reflect the transferable skills that are essential in today’s world.

    Presentation skills are essential for getting a job. Peer assessment is useful for working in teams. Creating an creative artifact can demonstrate lateral thinking. There are so many ways that we can offer the students an opportunity to demonstrate their development.

  59. If one follows the twitter model, all writing will be in 140 character blobs.

    That is the prime reason I eschew twitter and blog instead. I can go from a couple of hundred words to a thousand words depending on how passionate I’m feeling about the subject and how much time I have to create a new post.

    Overall in the five years of blogging I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. But when I contrast that with the enforced writing in college guess which pales in comparison?

    It isn’t the blogging. It’s the 20 page paper, the 30 page paper, etc. Not fun.

  60. Hmm . . my feeling on education may seem a little archaic but it is based on some logic and experience.
    1. Education is becoming more specific (I’m referring to the UK- as this is the system of which I have experience) and in my mind it is becoming more training than education- learn a skill? that’s not a university education. To me, university education is about developing the ability to learn, explore, and understand.
    2. I would also include in this definition skill-based courses- why study ‘automobile engineering not simply engineering. Industry argues that we need more specialists as technology is changing so quickly- surely this is an argument for more general BUT in-depth abilities rather than market force defined specialisms??
    3. And so to the academic paper- the last university at which I taught, I had huge difficulty in trying to convince students (and some staff…) that entering a word in google and printing out 27 sheets of results was NOT research. Equally the academic paper/ essay/thesis/dissertation was becoming less valued – this is/was not responding to new technology – this is abdicating responsibility for academic standards and fitting in with economic demands for more ‘bums on seats’ and higher pass rates.

    Sad but that was my experience – the academic paper? I’m no Luddite but we need to realise that technology is there to serve not control. The PC/Mac makes it so much easier to produce something that looks right and is well presented- but it is down to study to ensure that the content is valid and valuable . . .

  61. These days, the internet has a lot ato answer for. The paper may have hard carddiac arrest but it will only die if we allow it to happen. I suggest mouth to mouth and a large gin!

  62. I instantly became a fan after reading this post. Looks like I just found another place to really learn. a

    Your post, by the way, gave me a lot to reconsider in my teaching methods like using blogs to create a form of discussion or forum on specific topics.

    Congratulations for the FP badge!

  63. Clearly, you (as a teacher) value the PROCESS of writing a paper, as much as the end result. I can only speak to my own situation, but an anecdote one of my parishioners mentioned does put it all into perspective.

    When I finished my Doctorate (TbtG!) I learned that, though intelligent, I had not the requisite skills, insights, and the ability to ‘see’ that areas of my tome were not well-written, lacked corrorobrating references, and were just my own ‘I feel this is right, because…’ statements.

    Even in the depths of middle age, having taught and graded other’s efforts for decades, I still could not see ‘the forest for the trees,’ when it came to my own writing. It clearly was a case of ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ And, after much blue language, I did. At least I got the Doctorate….

    So, in answer to your query, ‘YES.’ I believe the term paper to be a way for us all to sharpen our mental processes, see that our thoughts don’t just flow onto the paper, and enable us all to learn from it.

    Now, my story. A parishioner got a one-term job (very early in his career) teaching at a big ‘techie’ school, in a highly literate state. He was told that the students were all bright, intelligent, and good thinkers. He was hired to teach a ‘general ed class’ that was basically a pushover ‘film studies course,’ which (when compared to the advanced Engineering, Mathematics, and other Science-like courses that were the mainstay of this institution) would have guaranteed “all ‘A’s” from his students in the class.

    Suprisingly, many of the ‘techies’ had troubles writing a simple term paper, from a choice of four or five given topics of research. One female student in particular, upon receiving a “D” for her paper, came into this young teacher with the complaint, ‘But I don’t underSTAND, Professor!?’ in that whiney, self-centered way most 20-something females have who refuse to accept that academic rigor is ‘sexually blind.’

    When told what she needed to do, to engage in some independent research, and present HER thoughts on the subject at hand, her reply was this (I kid you not!):

    “All my other teachers just tell me what to memorize, or what’s going to be on the test, or give us cheat sheets….. you… You…. YOU want me to THINK!”

    Exactly so.

    That student failed my friend’s class, because she wouldn’t think for herself, on an easy subject. Pity is, it’s those people who elect candidates like Clinton, Bush, and/or Obama.

    (Gee, now I know why this country is in such a mess….)

    – Fr. John+

  64. Blogs are a wonderful new thing. I enjoy reading silly and fun ones. I enjoy the more insightful as well. They are a way to impart helpful information or simply pictures of your most recent dinner.

    Research papers, whether in the upper grades of high school, as a freshman in college, or as an advanced degree student, teach us the importance of backing up what we say. It is very hard to convince someone of your conclusions in a written or verbal discussion, if all you have to back up your reasoning is, “That’s what I heard.” or “Just because.”

    Writing simply what we know because we just know it is not the way to learn critical thinking skills. Many professors (I am an academic librarian) have told me they do not want their students simply reading what political pundits say and write (and pundits surely do often contradict each other!). They want their students to go to the source of that information. The best way to know and impart the facts is to find the source, use that information to back up your own grammatically-correct writing, and then give detailed information on how to find the sources used in the paper. That way, if anyone wants to read the facts for themselves, they can find your source with ease.

    We go to school to learn new words, new information, and different ways of doing things. We don’t necessarily hand-write everything any longer. However, it doesn’t mean we cannot expect students to learn how to use their new tools in a different way. Just because U.S. students today grew up with computers and the Internet doesn’t mean they shouldn’t learn to write a decent research paper. Sometimes we do not expect as much from our young people today. Writing a quality research paper and backing up their thesis statement takes time and effort. They can do it. Whether on paper or the computer.

    I surely hope someone along the way will help our future leaders learn critical thinking skills. They will need them!

    I am anxious to learn more on this subject . . . .

  65. As an elementary education major entering my third year of college, I have to say that I am unsure of what is most important for learning except balance. I really love doing research, but I hate writing research papers because I feel that I can never do enough. I like blogging, but I often feel that my blog writings need something more than a couple hours thought. To me, both mediums have the same problems that manifest themselves in different ways.

    On school papers, I have many professors who will give an assignment and ask only that it is so many pages long in MLA format with at least three cited sources. These papers are nice because they are easy to write, but they are the papers I finish in 1 – 3 days without adequate research and editing. However, I had an English professor ask us to write an argumentative research paper and use at least four academic sources – no magazine, Internet, or newspaper articles would count for those four sources. I wanted to choose a topic I cared about and would find useful in the future. I chose teacher unions, and I chose to argue against them. I searched through journals and online databases, and after a week, I found one academic source to fit my topic. (Obviously, nobody cared to say anything negative about teacher unions.)

    My university is extremely small, and we have limited access to journals, but an abundance of online databases. We also have a rather small selection of books, though we have access to endless numbers of ebooks. Personally, I would rather search through tangible books and journals than enter search terms into a computer and spend hours sifting through everything I don’t need. I agree that the Internet makes finding information easier, but it also presents students with too much information. This is why Wikipedia is so popular: it combines and condenses information into manageable paragraphs.

    I’ve had teachers try to give us “alternative” writing assignments – PowerPoint presentation, brochure, poster display, video – but these are often even more difficult than research papers because there seems to be too much information to put into the project. The problem seems not to be the individual manner of academic assessment, but the very fact that no one is teaching students how to deal with so much information. The amount of information available to us increases exponentially every few years, but no one seems to know what to do with it. I don’t really think it is necessary that high schools and universities require students to take courses on research/understanding information, but we should help students gain the critical thinking skills to distinguish necessary information from fluff. Students need skills, not guidelines and criteria.

  66. I read a fair number of comments, though I don’t have time to read them all. But I must say, among the trifling, daily giggles or pouty screeds that blogs (including mine) often are, it’s great to interact with such a relevant, meaty topic as this.

    It’s been years since I wrote a research paper (I never even went to grad school – I’m starting to feel like I’m the only one), but since college, I’ve written a plethora of things professionally, including a non-fiction book. I’ll always be grateful to the teachers who did give me the tools for worthwhile writing and RESEARCH. These skills are not necessary only for people who become writers.

    Maybe someone has already raised this, but I’ll go ahead anyway. I don’t even see the need to debate the value of research papers – they’re fantastic forms for learning. The thing that keeps occurring to me is the issue of public vs. private, and an audience of one versus and audience of God knows how many.

    When I listen to my friends talk about their school papers, I often know that I am doing similar levels of research, writing and editing for my books or in-depth mag features, and I ponder the difference between writing a paper for your professor to grade versus writing something for a successful publication. Sometimes, selfishly, I think a main obstacle I would find in going back to school and writing papers is that I would be aiming my work at the preferences of an audience of one (the professor) rather than thousands or tens of thousands of people. It would be a wildly different thing for me, having shifted from academic work to the mindset that most things I write (professionally, anyway) have a large audience.

    Now, an assigned student blog is not necessarily going to get a giant (or even a modest) audience, of course, but the potential is always there online. I think turning to blogs instead of traditional research papers raises critical issues of public vs. personal life. Blogging, versus writing a paper for the teacher to grade, may reinforce the message that nothing is private anymore: their coursework is appropriate fodder for online posting and potentially unlimited feedback. Should students not have the right to develop their research, thoughts and skills in a more personal, focused setting, where only the professor is privy to their work? No doubt they’re sharing like mad on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, but maybe the classroom/coursework could be the last bastion of human interactions that do not get broadcast online. I say this as an avid blogger myself, but I think students need and deserve that.

    Just a thought.

  67. The writing and the thinking is the thing. I’ve read some wonderfully well written blog posts that showed great depth of thought and attention to craftsmanship, same as with papers I’ve graded.

    Honestly, the problem is not the medium. Too many people (students and adults alike) cannot be bothered to think a thought through to a logical conclusion or to synthesize many sources, ideas, and solutions together. As long as that is present, the medium hardly seems to matter. I know writing is not a strong suit for some people and that I am blessed to be naturally skilled at it (math is a different issue entirely!), but the hard makes it great. Being able to explain yourself well, defend your beliefs, and truly communicate with one or more person–those things are worth the time investment. I just don’t know how to make more people see it. The word has just been devalued.

  68. Yes, most certainly the academic paper still has a place. Sure, some students may not ever really use – outside of high school or college – the underlying principles, methods, layout, etc. which they learn while taking 100 and 200 level courses; but, as my father points out, college is about a “universal man” education, holistic and broad-sweeping if you will. Even if most students are going for a specific degree.

    Many degrees require a fair amount of research and not only do you have to be able to present that your fellow academics on all levels, but it has to have some consistency – the format.

    I have read books that are chock full of information and clearly well researched but were horribly edited – they “self” published. While some of these were good books due to content, it was painful to read them, and if I wanted to check their sources, I might have a difficult time doing it.

    I hated writing papers in high school and college. I still cringe at the idea when I consider the eventual possibility of going back for a graduate degree. However, I know that the process and the results serve a good purpose, no matter how painful.

    While in college I briefly entertained the idea of a degree in history… until it sunk in how much academic writing I’d have to do. Switching to social studies ed, seemed a reasonable move but in my senior year I found that I had to take a course wherein I’d have to write a research paper – not just your ordinary English 101/102 paper. My buddy and I tried to avoid taking the History research course – we had some options – as we knew who was teaching it, but inevitably we “had” to take the class. We both dropped out of it a couple of weeks into the course. The professor was brutal. I understand the method to her madness. She was shaping students who’d be able to produce good research papers… but it was maddening. I could not keep up pace with her requirements and my efforts never passed her muster. Had her class been the only one I was taking that semester – which was what she “urged”, considering the work load – I probably would have stuck it out, gladly taking a C and feeling I’d earned it well. Instead, I waited until the next semester, took a sociology research class and wrote my paper the night before it was due – oh, I had plenty of research. I think I got a B or C on the paper and was okay with it, knowing I hadn’t put a lot of effort into it. However, I had zero intention of getting a masters in Sociology or anything at that time. I was also looking at graduating, and had other courses to complete. I was ready to be done with college.

    It’s been seven years since I graduated college and much of the specific grammar and style I had to learn is pretty much gone. I’d have to re-learn it if I ever wanted to get a graduate degree, and that – if it does happen – won’t be for some time yet.

  69. I don’t think it’s the format of research papers that makes them necessary, but the process students go through while writing them. Blogs are, for the most part, commentary. Though I think they can be a wonderful tool that forces students to think and explore different subjects and ideas, it doesn’t necessarily teach them to research from a professional and theoretical perspective. It isn’t about their thoughts per say, but a point gathered with evidence from thorough research.

    The one thing I remember from research papers in college isn’t writing the paper itself, but the things I learned along the way. The things I learned through research, and the skills acquired from the process, are things I still use today.

    I think incorporating blogging into the academic world is a wonderful addition to education. It’s a different format, worthy of recognition and useful in its own right. But I can’t fathom it being a replacement to some of the traditional means we still utilize today. Not without losing some of the benefits of more “archaic” forms of learning and writing.

  70. The times that we live in today are well immersed with information, also known as the information age. I am a college student majoring in communications. Professors that I know have worked really hard to keep students up to date in the communication industry. I can say research papers are still very much important. I know that they have not done away with them for I have written many. But they also do not want to ignore where methods of communication are going. With many platforms of media, I believe strongly that students have to consume more information than ever before to stay on top of their game. I strongly believe that with the higher demand of information coming at you full force makes your skills and voice much more competitive. It also makes topics very syndicated. With that being said, it is easier to find an uncommon or unusual topic that someone may be interested in. I believe that students must improve their writing, constantly working out the kinks that are prevalent. First, so they can have their writing be noticed, and second, there is a greater potential for readers to discover someone’s writing. Research is just as important as writing and I don’t believe that research papers are going extinct. The source of information coming from paper to digital is what is changing.

  71. I think that the question is not should academic papers become void, as to understanding that there should be MORE to grading and education than just academic papers. I do think academic papers is an important foundation for all sorts of writing and that is is a skill that should not be undervalued any time soon. And honestly, college at the Bachelors level is really the only place students can begin to develop that skill. It is expanded at the graduate level, but I do not think it should be dismissed at the bachelors level.

  72. The idea is an engaging one, but the thought of totally doing away with research papers is not very practical. Blogging can certainly be an engaging form for students to use when they are studying a given topic, but the problem I find in most blogs is that they are often far less formal and in depth as they should be if they were treated as an academic paper. Most blogging is done as a reaction to what has been read, studied, learned, whatever. There is little research based inquiry driving the student blog. I think the key lies more in making students realize that a research paper does not necessarily imply some dry, soporific topic that is being regurgitated. Like you, I also teach college English. From the start I ask my students to question the little things – the everyday. Some of the best research papers come from critical thought on such subjects, rather than on a given topic. Case in point, I often use Ann Hodgeman’s essay “No Wonder they Call me a Bitch” to elicit creative thinking in approaching a research paper. Additionally, I pose other questions, such as why household cleaners come in lemon scent, but not watermelon. Yes, we associate lemon with clean, but there is watermelon scented shampoo. This is something that can be interesting to investigate and write a report about. The main key is in having genuine curiosity guide the research, wherever the questions may lead.

    Blogs are great. They allow for the development of an individual’s writing style, but they do the job of a research paper. No future employer is going to want employees blogging about quarterly earnings to present to the shareholders. The same holds true for business prospectives. Possible intellectual property for a multinational company shouldn’t be shared online – it would be corporate suicide.

  73. I do agree that it may be beneficial if students’ academic writing were in a form that people actually read, such as blogs. This may not be the case with academic papers because it is not always as accessible as blogs. I am a lecturer in the one and only university in Maldives, and we don’t have access to good online journals or libraries (due to budget constraints), thus students a very much inclined towards websites, blogs and online magazines when it comes to academic research. So I feel that if we move solely towards personal blogs and make it a requirement for students to blog, it may not have the value and credibility that academic papers have. Hence, perhaps we should look into an integrated approach of making academic materials more accessible to everyone, rather than a premium service.

  74. I’m on the road and must keep this short. For now, I’m compelled to say 1) Read Jacques Barzun’s “Begin Here,” which offers some wise advice for changing education. The academic paper has its merits, but shouldn’t be taught so early. Some schools have students attempting them in 4th grade. Not all fields need the same sort of writing expertise. That should be considered.

    I had a digital disaster last semester and someone hijacked my students’ blogger account. Google refused to reinstate the accounts. So advice for student blogging – don’t use Google, back up, print out, and use a platform like WordPress or whatever the school provides.

  75. Excellent article and commentary. One of the issues I’ve struggled with in my teaching is plagiarism, which seems to be an ever-increasing problem. I wonder if the academic paper really is fit for purpose in the digital age, and if not, what could replace it? What other kind of assessment could provide a similar mix of requirements?

  76. I think that, if nothing else, blogs etc. are here to say and will be more important to many, if not most students’ futures than academic papers. For this reason, they need to become part of our education.

    If for no other reason than to boost the quality of writing on the world wide web. 🙂

  77. Honestly, writing papers has helped hone my writing, which is one of my natural skills. I never had a problem writing essays in school. Hell, I’m that student who does nothing until the night before and then crank out 4-6 pages in about 2 hours. It is a skill that is much-needed.

    However, with the rise of the internet, we’re headed into a digital age. Keeping our students stuck in the past will accomplish nothing. We need to move forward. One thing that history can teach us is that as technology advances, those who are slower to embrace it will be left in the dust. Our educational system is like a crying child in a store. It’s kicking and screaming for what it wants, but nothing is being accomplished. We need change.

  78. Jumping in late…apologies for probably echoing others before me….

    For all that I regularly criticize many aspects of American formal education, I absolutely still believe in the value of the formal academic paper. I just don’t know that there’s a better way to learn to develop, communicate and defend complex ideas. (Of course I say this as someone who communicates best in writing myself.)

    But blogs can be great tools for students as well, and I think if we were to look at the reasons why student blogs can be so impressive while their paper writing is so abhorrent…well, what’s the difference between writing a blog and an academic paper? Medium–most college students today will have never not known more comfort with computers than with pencil and paper composition–and the fact that they’re probably blogging about what they truly CARE about. So why not use those aspects to teach paper-writing backwards, in a way? Can they make a well-constructed case for a thesis they care about on their blogs? That’s the core of the task of a paper, isn’t it? After that, it’s mostly formalities, formatting, and footnoting.

    I’m confused by this, though: “b) the majority of my students have not received the time-consuming training in digital communication that Davidson says they need. ”

    What time-consuming training in digital communication? I had NO training in digital communication beyond the typing classes that were required in 7th-9th grades. I learned how to use the internet by using it–didn’t you? I set up my blog in probably under 20 minutes, with zero training in website building or design–didn’t most people here on WordPress? People have learned digital communication organically, by USING it, and PLAYING with it, not through time-consuming training. I’m not talking about actual programming, but digital communication on the level that most people actually use, doesn’t take training, it just takes use. Like any other form of literacy, really. Students today can’t read because they don’t DO it, and they can’t write because they don’t DO it, not because they lack time-consuming training in it.

  79. WOW. Had totally never thought of that before. Should our academia be presented to the world online, where both the assessor and the world can critique. Meaning that the hours a student spends researching, forming and opinion or showing their findings is actually read by more than one person?

    in a word. YES.

    • I have been blessed with a job that allows me to work online and grade college-level student papers from home. I have graded hundreds of papers this way. It has been both an enlightening and a grounding experience. Technology completely solves legibility issues and the spell-check default setting is invaluable. However, before diving head first into an all-caps “YES” vote for a world critique, I can foresee two nightmarish problem areas with this: privacy issues and plagiarism. Pressure to perform is already high enough. Students need a safe environment where they can learn from their mistakes. Trust me, even if real names are not used, the potential for embarrassment to the student and to the university is too great to be hidden behind any posting ID code.

      I am not sure if the Buy-My-Essay websites would suffer similar humiliation, but they ought to.

      • I hadn’t thought of that, very good point well made. But at the same time, for the thousands of students out there who will spend what feels like an eternity on a paper, for it to be read once and then either filed or binned, the opportunity to have their thoughts and analysis to be read and admired and maybe even constructively criticised by other parties.

        But this system doesn’t have to be mandatory surely? It is also possible to apply passwords to posts on things like wordpress, which would avoid the ‘potential for embarrassment’. And on the plagiarism point, yes it may mean there is more content available online, but this does not have to be searchable content and/or i don’t believe the majority of students in the our universities/colleges cheat.

        Do we find that reasonable?

  80. I confess I didn’t make it through all 116 of the comments though I did read quite a few! From what I read, the same arguments and problems seemed to reappear: 1) that students need the skills learned in academic papers for many and various reasons; 2) that one of the main difficulties in teaching writing, particularly academic papers, is that of helping students to see their writing as worthwhile to a greater audience (or to their future). As a high school teacher myself who is the daughter of teachers (elementary and high school, all subjects), I am actually surprised to find so few comments to this effect: that “if we don’t use this exact form in the ‘real world’ we shouldn’t have to learn it”–a common objection I have heard from high schoolers. It is refreshing to see so many people who have found real-world value in the writing they learned in school.

    I suspect that part of the reason we are tempted to do away with the formal paper is that we are tired. Teaching this type of writing is tiring and time-consuming, often more time-consuming than the actual writing of the paper because giving feedback requires thoughtful reading and carefully-constructed comments based on a student’s individual writing needs. It also can give rise to objections from the students as writing is such a personal act that students feel personally attacked when their writing is critiqued. As teachers it is easy to feel tired and to wonder if it is really worth it in the long run to teach something so time-consuming and difficult. It’s encouraging to read so many comments defending the academic paper =) It looks as though there are many who have benefited from their teachers’ work in the past =)

    Thank you for publishing your thoughts and questions on this topic–the debate has definitely been timely and stimulating =)

  81. The death of the academic research paper will be tragic. This line of thought that because students can blog well means we should do away with the research paper because they do them poorly is misguided. It would be like someone saying, I am a horrible worker, but I am good at stealing so we should just let me steal for a living. The internet and the blog, while powerful tools, can be turned into tools for laziness. Anyone can get online and write about something they want to write about, but if we allow students that privilege, but never require them to research and write about things they might not care for then we are doing them a disservice. When they enter the “real” world and have to start creating business proposals or presentations on topics that do not interest them what will we get? Lack luster proposals and presentations with no foundation in research because they were not trained to do so while in school. Instead we will receive nonacademic pieces that reflect more person rantings of a blog. The internet and blogs are great, but let us not hamper our children’s future by allowing them to forget what its like to take responsibility to one’s work and do it the right way, even if its not the way we’d like to do it.

  82. English was always one of my favorite classes. It branched off into journalism my junior year of high school and I fell in love with the fact that I could write and publish my own work. I am currently an Education major and one day hope to teach Kindergarten, but I also know that the type of teaching I received when I was a kid will be vastly different then how I teach the kids in my future classes.

    I remember my 7th grade advanced english teacher giving me my first research assignment when all the other 7th grade classes were still learning basic grammar. It was in that class that I learned how much I loved to find myself wrapped up in tons of books searching for who knows what among the pages. It is hard for me to think that academic papers will lose their value, because they have played such an important role in my school experience. I also believe they have made me a better writer and observer of the world around me.

    I think schools need a balance. They need to help students learn tasks that will help them in the real world, but they also need to continue teaching students how to write papers and how to research. There are millions of students who come in and out of the classrooms across the US and yes, some of them will need to know how to build cars and manage a business, but by removing the academic paper and the research aspect the students who are meant to be our next professors and scholars will miss out on so many opportunities to learn and improve.

  83. Extremely interesting topic. For one, I love writing. Everything about it. I took creative writing classes and asked my boyfriend to take one just so that I could help him write. As someone who was born in “the age of technology” as some call it I have a very neutral viewpoint. Which do I prefer? paper. Which is simple? digital.

    What are the advantages to writing on paper?

    Penmanship – Reader’s Digest wrote a small section on how our penmanship is going down the drain due to the digital age and all these new inventions. I wrote a small post on it:

    Imagination – You can be creative and have an imagination with or without the paper. But when physically writing you tend to think a bit more descriptively at once because you don’t really have the chance to go back and insert without having to rewrite the entire page again.

    Grammar, Vocabulary, Structure – Yeah, you can have all of this fixed in Word or any other program but what are we teaching students if we can just count on the computer to do it for us. Will there be spelling bees if we continue down this path? Will future generations need a computer by their side when they are asked a question at an interview and can’t even figure out how to put a sentence together?

    There are certainly more advantages to the academic paper but with just 3 points listed this is becoming a post in itself. At 21 years of age I can’t say that this digital age will in doubt not pose any harm but even with a Kindle of my own, nothing beats the smell and touch of a paperback.

  84. For ten years, I ran a multi-subject classroom for grades 6-8. I had written professionally before becoming a teacher, but found the writing part of the day the hardest to teach. Most of the kids—literally on paper—really struggled with writing, even taking into account their age. They appeared to have no aptitude or inspiration, despite my best efforts. Getting them to produce anything worth reading took an enormous amount of planning, time, and patience. Looking back, the problem was the medium itself. We’ve written on flimsy sheets of paper because for centuries that’s all we had. I can see a seventh grader working and working and working, then hitting the print button and thinking, “Wow… all that frustration and work… and that’s all I get for my trouble?”

    I think if I had that classroom again, I’d have every kid get a Word Press blog and publish their papers that way. Then *I* would be the one hitting the print button to hand back critiques for spelling, content, etc. Along the way, they might learn layout, typography, all sorts of other things that make writing fun and productive. The few who would go on to write professionally (or at least productively) would still get the kind of rigor they would need, while the rest might accidentally discover that they enjoyed a daily writing practice.

  85. I would like to express again how grateful I am to all of you for the thoughtfulness and detail of your comments. It’s simply not possible for me to respond to them all individually – it’s as much I can do to stay on top of reading them all! – but I’m honoured by the time and attention that you’ve given to this post. I know that a number of you have subscribed to the blog, and I promise to try to give you the individual attention you deserve when you comment on future posts. Thank you so much, and keep the comments coming!

  86. I think blogging for academic should not be displayed on a blog. We all have ideas and opinions on topics that we feel and everyone might not agree with it. Or we could be highly intelligent and not know it.

  87. Having helped my best friend of many many years grade papers while she was a TA working on her PHD, I can tell you there is so such thing as too much practice in writing. I have seen an entire 3 page paper that was a single run on sentence. I have seen an entire paper that was copied nearly word for word right out of the text book. I have seen far too many papers where two, too, and to were used interchangeably as were their, there, and they’re. And why does everyone want to put an ‘s on the end of plural rather than a possessive? I’m not a grammar or english teacher but when did we start becoming a nation of l33t or txttalk illiterates???????

  88. This topic is ridiculous. Students shouldn’t write academic papers because it is a form “that people read”–people DON’T READ STUDENT WORK. They read newspapers, magazines, blogs, whatever. Students don’t write papers to learn how to do some marketable task, they write papers to learn how to THINK.

  89. It is great for anyone to open this topic up for discussion. There is a place for both modern and “formal” applications for education and retention of information. While I don’t think we should rely on technology (just saying, they get to use calculators from the beginning of math education now…) but, we should be teaching students how technology can work for them after teaching the foundations. Writing and research is important for critical thinking… how that information is displayed (paper, blog, blackboard…) does not matter. We must have these conversations!

  90. Of course we need academic papers in the same manner that we need essays. We need to be able to present formal arguments about any topic of interest in a proper, educated manner with solid language skills, orthographic ability (spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc) and a means of presenting research.
    A blog will not get you a Masters Degree or a Doctorate Degree. You cannot blog your way into becoming a psychoanalyst, for instance. A debate can be easily stirred in an academic paper and in fact this is precisely the intent behind many them.
    A blog that acts as a surplus to a paper or that supplements an online course, sure, why not? But being able to write formally and with eloquence is a necessary, complex skill that is not easily acquired. It takes something called discipline and that accounts for poorly constructed student papers as much as poor research or a poor understanding of how to write a paper.
    Perhaps we teach biology or chemistry without lab experiments and lab reports. Ditto for teaching art classes without requiring students to build art portfolios.
    There are a plethora of books that detail how to write an academic paper. No one should be baffled as to how to conduct this project. There are even templates and examples of good academic papers for students to follow.
    Academic papers will never be redundant. They are the cornerstone of graduate learning in many subjects, especially those that require significant research and a formally worded argument to demonstrate learning.

  91. So true, as an electrical engineering student, I have received no training on how to communicate my ideas with other people. At my first internship it took me forever to draft emails where I had to provide a technical explanation for an idea. I don’t think my boss wants to be reading an academic paper I think he wants to read my idea quickly and get on with other things without falling asleep. However, I was not prepared for that kind of writing.

  92. I never liked doing academic papers (we called them “term papers”). I didn’t mind the writing at all, I just disliked the research. That said, it is essential that we keep the academic paper. With the Internet (which didn’t exist when I went to school), research for academic papers is easier than ever before. No longer does a student have to check out an armful of library books–the information’s online. So there’s no excuse to dismiss the academic paper.

    Also, despite all the technology of today, students must learn the basics–they must learn to do work without this technology. When my dad tutored me in basic math (one of my weak subjects) he insisted I do my work on paper–that I must learn to do it without a calculator. And I’m glad he did. This society’s excessive dependence on technology is extremely dangerous. We don’t know what the future holds–the Internet could completely crash, for all we know. And we need to be prepared for a world without an Internet, even without electricity.

  93. Thank you for bringing in this topic. I agree with some of your points. On my experience as an educator in college, it’s hard to instill to the students the practice of writing academic papers. They will write academic papers for the sake of submitting and receiving their grades. But as soon as they step out of the four walls of the classroom, most of them don’t really use the skills they learned in academic writing. Writing is a lot different in the classroom as against the corporate world. I agree that at some point, the academe needs to revisit its approach so that students will get the training that would serve as useful for them. Why teach something that students will not use or benefit something in the future?

  94. Good point and interesting article. One thing. I don’t think students need any help whatsoever understanding the digital world. Some of us thirtysomethings do, maybe.

    Part of the problem is that the written text itself is not as relevant as it used to be. A long paragraph is like a foreign country to many students. They don’t usually dig WordPress, by the way, they dig Tumblr.

    Nothing wrong with that, right? There were no books in the (relatively recent) past and there will be no books in the future, most likely.

    Blogs have endless possibilities. Of course, in order to work their magic they need to be endorsed by the universities.

  95. The use of an example such as cut/laceration to reason that academic papers merely couch simple facts in complicated clothing is unreasonable. Science aims first to teach a student to communicate with precision and accuracy. Much of what makes blogging possible, including the science and engineering behind the internet, relies on stuff that is not particularly easy to express in words of one syllable.

    Einstein set the standard for science in that respect by suggesting you “make it as simple as possible, but no simpler.” William of Occam made the same point seven centuries before.

    I have never had a peer-review that suggested I should use either simpler or more complicated language. But what was publishable in Science or Nature in the 1960s wouldn’t get a second look now, because we build on accumulated knowledge. Which is a good thing. But since the educational cycle (in developed nations) is not much longer than it was thirty years ago, it makes it tough for kids to assimilate what they need given the progress in knowledge.

    The net has only partly helped, by increasing access but simultaneously reducing confidence in the materials you find.Cross-checking the web is often as important as finding things. The onus of the peer-review process is then on the student, which is completely unfair. No different than having an ignorant but persuasive teacher.

    The fact that you don’t understand something doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcomplicated. Maybe you just need to read more.

    • Using Latin because it is a dead language not subject to change or being corrupted into slang is scientific and reasonable. Using ten dollar words such as the example I used when a simple word will do is a sign of an unrestrained ego placing itself upon a pedestal for all to see and worship.

      Unfortunately that is the way it has always been in the so called better educated professions since the beginning of time and always will be that way til the end of time.

  96. The Ms’s Hefferman and Davidson are operating under the misconception that an academic paper ought to be written with the reader in mind, like a blog, and that this would be teaching a marketable employment skill. They are wrong about the purpose of the paper.

    Servicing the reader is very far down the list of priorities for an academic paper. An academic paper is all about being able to (a) find information (b) think about the implications of the information, and (c) cogently reassemble diverse sources of information into a singular focus. As a sidebar, it includes a valuable tutorial on the ethics of source citation.

    If students want tips to learn how to write enticingly, they should attend a writer’s workshop, but mostly, they should be self-motivated to practice writing. The learning that happens whilst writing an academic paper is more about developing the ability to process information logically and form a conclusion. It is less about creating great literature.

    I do not believe that iPads and Android tablets have negated the need to learn this.

  97. I teach 8th grade language arts and have been struggling with this very concept all summer long. For me, blogging would help increase student fluency in writing (which in the 8th grade is sorely needed). It would also break down the social barriers in middle school which inhibit peer editing and review. Although I am very new to blogging, I can see how it could provide a format for thinking about research and “off-line” materials in constructive ways, even lending itself to long-term projects. I don’t believe the formal research paper can be abandoned though, for all the reasons cited by so many of the comments here. I will continue reading them in hopes that I can develop a more insightful approach to creating a classroom environment that will prepare my students for their future. My gut feeling is that it is all about balance. Thank you for this post!

  98. As a university student, I have to agree. I don’t have a problem with the technical aspect of writing research papers or essays, and generally get good marks, but I absolutely LOATH them. I would rather take an exam.

    The main purpose I hate them isn’t the actual writing, but the strictness with which we have to do the research. I’m in psychology and anthropology, so I don’t know if it’s the same in other areas, but I get the feeling it is. Most of the time, the only “acceptable” research we can use are scientific journal articles (and anyone who has ever read a psychological journal article knows that most of the time it is 30 pages of formulaic writing, technical terms, statistics, and tear-inducing boredom) and government websites. Why? Because nowhere else is “trustworthy.” EVERYTHING must be cited, even ideas and speculation – why? Because you’re an undergrad, and you don’t have your own ideas about psychology. Whether it’s the intention or not, I feel like coming up with your own thoughts is discouraged, and the purpose of almost every paper I’ve been assigned has simply been to locate, interpret, and regurgitate information related to our topic.

    There was one psychology paper I loved though – and what did that paper do differently than all the others? No research. We were, in fact, FORBIDDEN from using anything other than a dictionary or the glossary in our textbook – and only in order to define terms. The professor wanted to see what WE could do, how well we understood what we had been taught, no what professionals thought. I wish I had the paper on my computer still, so I could remember exactly what it was, but it was something along the lines of – using what we had learned in that class and from the text – creating an imaginary patient with one negative and one positive behaviour, describing two personality traits that could explain both behaviours, explaining which personality trait was the most likely and why, and then describing an effective means of treatment for the negative behaviour. To me, this felt like a much better test of my knowledge, reasoning, and problem solving skills than any research paper I had written before or have written since.

    I don’t think academic papers need to go away, per se, but the requirements need to be changed. In my opinion, there needs to be more encouragement and opportunity for the student to come up with his or her own ideas and solutions, use research only for when hard facts are needed to back up those ideas (none of this “you don’t have your own ideas, everything but your thesis statement must be cited” nonsense), and stop limiting research to only one or two types of sources. There are LOTS of legitimate sources other than journal articles and government websites out there, part of the challenge to the student should be finding those legitimate sources and being able to tell a good source from a bad one.

  99. I haven’t read all of the comments either. I just wanted to say that I’ve been trying to research some of the Republican candidates and am having trouble finding just facts. So much of what is written now seems to be opinion. When I worked on my BS, I had to write a research paper that was based on facts and what could reasonably be hypothesized from those facts. My opinion was not requested and would have resulted in failure. Perhaps that is the point/purpose of writing research papers: to search for and find facts and then present them.

  100. Great discussion going on here! LOVE IT!

    Thinking of the “digital age upgrade”, I am reminded of two RSA animated videos. (there’s a great example right there…I’m listening to a lecture, online and it’s in pictures! 🙂
    Check out:
    Changing Education Paradigms – Ken Robinson

    The Secret Powers of Time – Philip Zimbardo

    There are many interesting statements in these presentations but I am pointing out their message about learning and living in a computer age.
    Robinson says we are living in the most “intensely stimulated period” and yet students are “penalized for getting distracted”.
    At one point, he refers to “divergent an essential capacity for creativity…the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question and possible interpretations of a question…thinking laterally…” He suggests in what direction education needs to go.
    Zimbardo’s lecture is about how our perspective of time affects our lives but I’m tuning in here to a portion about education. “Students live in a world they create…they have been digitally rewired but they are being taught in an analog environment”. For education to work, they “need to control something”.

    What do I think this has to do with writing papers? Writing is important – analyzing research, expressing thoughts.. Davidson refers to ‘the form’. Well, if our industrial world is still shaped in the way that our old fashioned education apparently was created to support, then the parameters of building legal rules, constructing bylaws, designing annual reports, creating screenplays… will still require workers to follow rules in writing.

    So change for the times? Yes. If an essay is delivered via a blog, why not? Add pictures, sure! Room for creativity, yet within the boundaries of certain requirements. Marks for critical thinking. Let’s not forget grammar. And be convincing!

  101. I think writing research papers has its place. I wrote a lot of papers when I was an English Major at Iowa State University. Essay tests are important. I don’t think the multiple choice test has any place in literature classes. I had one professor who gave us multiple choice tests–it was just an easy way for her to grade the papers. Essay tests take more time and work to grade for the professor, but the student benefits in the long run; the students gets good practice on organizing their thoughts on paper.

    The film “Good Poet’s Society” somehow comes to mind. That one professor would take his students outside and recite some poetry and then have them kick a soccer ball. Education has to integrative: education (book learning) has to be integrated into real life.

    Look at the word “education.” It comes from the Latin root: educere–which means “to bring out that which is within.” I remember my favorite teachers and professors. They brought an infectious enthusiasm to that great bartering table called the classroom.

    I don’t have a mathematical brain. I had to take a math class at Iowa State. The professor of that class had so much ENTHUSIASM for math that I really enjoyed that class. I ended up getting a C+ in that class. I was more proud of that C+ than the A- I got in an English class.

    A great teacher will inspire a student to go and research more and study more and educate themselves at the local public library.

  102. “What do I think this has to do with writing papers? Writing is important – analyzing research, expressing thoughts.. Davidson refers to ‘the form’. Well, if our industrial world is still shaped in the way that our old fashioned education apparently was created to support, then the parameters of building legal rules, constructing bylaws, designing annual reports, creating screenplays… will still require workers to follow rules in writing.

    So change for the times? Yes. If an essay is delivered via a blog, why not? Add pictures, sure! Room for creativity, yet within the boundaries of certain requirements. Marks for critical thinking. Let’s not forget grammar. And be convincing!”

    I did say earlier that I would welcome a full-fledged essay with cited referenced links to research resources. However let’s not confuse the reality that different forms of written communication and permanent written record do require specific rules so that an audience from a wide diverse background of literacy levels, language and cultural backgrounds will understand the original purpose of the written piece: a report, bylaw, research report or business proposal. Respect this aspect that now there is an international audience which a writer can choose to write at a general level or to a narrow band of colleagues in different countries.

    People complaining about the rigour of academic paper writing along with its research? PFFFFTTT, then you can tell them writing very well requires fine honed discipline and craft of persuasion that is on par with the applied sciences. Too many times those in engineering and in the hard sciences. scoff at the “ease” of writing with excellence.

    Get over it: use effective wordplay with deceptively light discipline and ease for the audience.

  103. While I do agree that student work should be gradually integrated into the digital age, it is important for them to stay in touch with hand-written style. This style exercises penmanship and other useful qualities for later on in life. While some work could be done digitally, I think students should always be accustomed to hand-writing papers. Children and teens spend so much time with electronic media as it is that adding in another job to be done digitally seems unecessary.

  104. I think we should keep the academic paper, as like you said, it can be a way to see them grow as students. The content of their writing becomes more mature as they do. Also, the academic papers show whether they can comprehend what they have read and have opinions. And, most important to me, writing shows that younger people do have a vocabulary that consists or more than the words “like” and “all.”

  105. Thanks for sharing this topic! I have not read all the comments but I appreciate the trakc most are taking–we need to find a way to blend the traditional with the immediacy of the internet and blogs. Not so easy in a classroom setting but not impossible. I taught writing for over 20 years and then moved into administration. What the students need is to master the skills and habits of mind that are needed in our changing world: find information, judge its merit and usefulness, cite sources to give credit, share ideas, persuade others. Basically, students need to be critical and creative thinkers with classroom/blog opportunities to practice and perfect those skills. We need the teachers who see and appreciate the value of the internet and its avenues of communication to help see how to merge elements such as Facebook and blogs into the classroom. I applaud those who are fighting the good fight as they work to educate our children, our society, our future.

  106. I would venture a guess that the freedom of expressing one’s views without the “boundaries” of form may be appealing but loose writing does not make for good practice if one is expecting to make a professional or consistent plausible argument in any arena of work, really. Rather, I think what we are seeing on the internet is the beginnings of unpolished efforts and lack real writing skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are people out there journaling/blogging “something real”, but imagine how much better they would be with more polish? What about the universality of communication coupled with style? Where is the art? I believe that writing is as much an art as playing an instrument, and, hey, even jazz has structure and rules and knowing this is exactly what gives the player the freedom to push. Here is to sticking with form.

    • I second this response! You have to know the rules to break them. The problem is that many students are taught based on a dry formulaic curriculum, not based on the love of writing or even writing with style and polish. It’s also difficult to reach individual students in a college classroom when there are so many of them, as happens in core curriculum classes at large universities. The internet can help students be more creative and connect with their professor.

  107. I think that there is some confusion among the commenters about what an academic research paper is—largely due to C. P. Snow’s two cultures. Almost everyone is commenting as if the humanities-style research paper were the only sort that existed.

    I taught tech writing to computer engineers and scientists for over a dozen years (I am trained as a computer scientist). The demands of an academic research paper in science and engineering are somewhat different than in the humanities, and the training provided in high school and freshman composition classes generally misses the mark by a lot. Students have generally learned to bullshit their way through papers with long and confusing sentences that hide their ignorance behind a smoke screen of verbiage. For engineering papers, the goals are clarity, correctness, completeness, and conciseness, with different audiences causing different weighting of the importance of the goals.

    Blogging may be less painful than the typical literary criticism paper required in high school and freshman comp classes, if for no other reason than that it doesn’t have to be about literary criticism, which only English teachers have any interest in. Blogs can provide genuine audiences, which is good (writing to the teacher rarely results in good writing), but they lack the disciplined focus and thorough documentation of a proper research paper.

    What we need is for more students to have genuine audiences and disciplined structure to arguments. I wouldn’t mind the lit-crit essay disappearing entirely, but it needs to be replaced by something more structured, not less.

  108. As a thirty-five year old current university arts student and former aircraft engineer, I find it difficult to see the relevance of an academic paper to a career after study.

    What is more important in the long run, education that directly relates to a career path, or training with the main purpose of categorisation and grading during study?

    I guess it comes down to the reasons why you go in the first place. Are you there for life skills or career skills?

  109. If there are advantages to our historic schooling conventions, generalizing is problematic, at best. Yet one could easily argue that in today’s world, completing tasks is an important skill. Not just for one’s self, but also in the ‘job’ market. All employers expect work to be completed.
    The research paper is very much a training ground for these approaches. Everyone who reads and comments in this blog has mostly been subjected to the methodology of modern Western academic ideas, has had to learn to write in cursive and print, perform arithmetic on paper and complete their work.
    While this concept of New Math and other more ‘modern’ approaches to classical education seem to pop their head up – it is in no way as helpful to the working organized Western society as classic training which teaches how to complete things; a math problem, a science project, a language exercise or even a written research paper.
    Everyone who judges this Davidson critique takes for granted their classical Western educational methodology background – to think critically, to collect thoughts and put them in order in one’s head, to establish a kind of logic that is never written, but well understood by all who are involved in this discussion.
    I think there is great advantage and purpose to Western historic educational methodologies – specifically the ones found in late 20th century public and private schools. Veering away from this will have gigantic culture shock effects and degrade Western society to the point of it no longer being able to function. It would provide a fertile ground for dystopian societies that will quickly crumble – just as history has proven time and time again.

  110. A blog can we written without preparation or thought. A paper requires preparation and thought. Both motivate us to reach a goal. Nothing replaces a paper being manually prepared; inhaled and shared with pride. A blog can be instantly seen around the world.

  111. One more thanks to all of you for this stimulating discussion – I hope you’ll return to comment on future posts, as I’ve enjoyed reading all your thoughts on this topic so much.

  112. I don’t think the wholeness and “bigger picture” function of a paper can be replaced. Only writing blogs won’t help students’ attention span. Granted, you are correct – blogs do have a place and function within the classroom. Still, papers require intensive research, and analyzing ideas in a depth that blogs – traditionally shorter – can’t cover.

  113. I must apologise to most people answering my comments, after four months I have today found where they are. All previous attempts to find them resulted in the sole reply to my first post. I don’t know how it happened.
    This comment isn’t on topic but I’ve read your plagiarism problems
    “CRIB AND CREDIT”? – I know I’ve typed out the same paper twice with a ten year gap for friends, and the annoying thing is for that subject they didn’t even fish out any updated pictures or diagrams from any magazines.
    Do concentrate on crediting, I was always brought up that there was only one way of being grammatically correct, logical and generally right, when someone else has got there first (and that essay turned up every year since I first transcribed from longhand) they deserve a credit.

  114. Strangely though, I do enjoy reading my academic papers and conducting extensive research by paper. Nonetheless, I’d actually started writing because I couldn’t contain the great amount of information I’d amassed over the internet. I guess blogs and the internet has made it more convenient for laymen to pick up knowledge without burying ourselves in academic texts. Good post there though, got me thinking quite a bit…

  115. I came across this blog doing a search for the question “Why should students learn to write academic papers?” and I have to say that I’m fascinated to some degree by the commentary here. So much so that I feel the need to comment.

    First and foremost, I could list the benefits of academic writing in terms of logic and critical thinking, which, as a teacher in China, I see is sorely lacking as part of their education (point in fact, my students are taught to memorize and regurgitate, not analyze and critique), so my first criticism of Heffernan and Davidson is that they are looking at things through a Western lens that isn’t applicable entirely outside the Western sphere, and maybe not entirely applicable within the Western sphere.

    I say not entirely applicable because of recent interest to me is the criticism that having dropped grammar from our early education (I’m Canadian, but I’ve seen this argument raise in Canada, the US and the UK) many years ago, there is a strong push to restore it to its rightful place in our early education. People are beginning to see the folly of having dropped this element, albeit a boring element, from the curriculum. There is also a current push to drop hand-writing from the curriculum. To be honest, this frustrates the hell out of me because I can see where it will lead to.

    Our obsession with technology is all well and good, but if the system breaks down, what happens then? How many modern teachers could actually teach a class with nothing more than their knowledge or a text book, a piece of chalk and a chalkboard? How many future students will lose the art of writing or grammar because short-sighted people have decided that since they don’t use it, no one needs to? Is the Academic Paper going to be the next body that Academia tries to bury in a shallow grave, only to dig it up ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, dust it off, and try to revive it like Frankenstein’s monster (IT’S ALIVE!)?

    There is a saying – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Personally, I don’t see the academic essay as broken. In fact, I see the academic essay enhancing the writing of student blogs if other teachers wish to utilize them. Many Universities are offering Writing and Technology courses, and if students want to blog, they can go there and do it.

    Until you can prove to me that writing academic papers is bad, that getting the skill to write academic papers is a negative thing, I see no reason to drop it from curriculum.

  116. I think that in a higher education setting such as PhD – that a blog might be a better way to handle the defense of said paper but I don’t see it as a replacement… sorry. And too many people think that grammar, spelling, etc. aren’t necessary to teach anymore and so we’re turning out a new generation of near-illiterates. I have a friend who was “let go” for failing too many students.

    Who did he fail? Students who used their, there, and they’re interchangeably in English papers. Students who didn’t know the difference between two, too, and to. Students who think that you make something plural by putting ‘s on the end (FYI that’s either a contraction or the possessive NOT THE PLURAL). So you have college students writing sentences like, “I went two the store”. “I’m going their.” or my favoite, “My parents have too chair’s on there porch.” Yet he was told that he was failing too many students and that he needed to “lighten up because it was a state school. And these kids need an education too.”

    Statements like that should bea thing of the past by the end of junior high. It’s only marginally acceptable in a high school paper. I fail to see why any of the statements above should be found in any paper with a passing grade at the college level.

    College is perhaps the one place where having a proper understanding of the language being used to describe and dicuss the topic at hand is crical to learning the subject itself. There is no topic in college that is not shaped by one’s ability to understand the language used to teach it. If language were not important to the learning process, universities would not require proficiency tests in the local language for international students.

    If you cannot master the basics of your own language, how are you to learn any other? If you are so unfamiliar with your own language as not know the difference between plural and possessive, how will you deal with that concept in some other language that may not handle it the same way? How are you going to understand the works of art and literatue? If you don’t know what the words mean, how are you to talk about Shakespear? or ee cummings? or Van Gogh? or Paganini? or Wagner? How are you going to be able to read your textbooks for things like Mathematics, Chemestry and Physics, where languge is indeed more complex and precise because it is describing the mechanics of a curveballl, the trajectory of an electron around the nucleus of an atom, or a planet around a star?

    • One does not need to understand dos or any other computer language to actually use a computer and as long as one writes clearly and simply the error of a misplaced plural or possessive, coma or any other punctuation will make no difference whatsoever. Their correction and proper placement are what editors are for. Indeed those individuals who chose to make an issue of plurals and possessives tend to be closed minded, unreachable and totally unreasonable to begin with.

  117. Pingback: The Trouble with Textbooks – The Dregs of Romulus

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