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Looking Back

The devil is in the basic research

/ 04:08 AM November 06, 2019

Turabian is a name etched in the memory of anyone who has endured composing a college term paper for the first time. For dinosaurs like me, the college term paper was manually typewritten, on a clean sheet of bond paper, with a margin guide traced out with thick pentel pen on another sheet of bond paper placed underneath. The challenge was not so much keeping the text within the margins, but getting the right spacing and indentations for the footnotes, which are so easy to insert these days on a computer.

As pretensions to scholarship, footnotes were riddled with quaint Latin abbreviations, like ibid., idem., loc. cit., and op. cit. Minor typing mistakes were dealt with correction fluid or correction tape. Major mistakes required retyping the whole page. Fortunately, all the hassle of typing was solved with an Apple Computer that ran a word processing program easier than the notorious WordStar — except that one professor, a noted literary critic, refused my dot-matrix printed paper because it was not “typewritten.”

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Students today are not limited to the standard written term paper and prefer something more visual like a video. I have no problem with format as long as the basics of research are taught and learned. Doing research online or the old-fashioned way with physical books in a library means gathering data, analyzing that data and writing up a report that has a Beginning (Introduction), a Middle (Body), and an End (Conclusion, Notes and Bibliography). In my classroom, oral reports must come with a written report in the standard academic format, using the citation system of the student’s choice. Research is learned by actual practice.

However, based on the messages I receive daily, it seems that many students are left on their own and are not taught how to conduct research properly. They take the easy way out by doing a video interview with a resource person who is expected to answer all the questions they themselves could have handled had they been instructed on how to do a simple Google or library search, and how to validate the information they had gathered.

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A typical exchange starts with someone online asking if I am free to chat, prompting me to automatically reply in the negative. After all, they are strangers who do not even have the courtesy to introduce themselves or give a reason for the chat. Individual term papers seem old-fashioned, and most students work in groups, either on a video (hence, a request for an interview), or preparing for a debate on a historical topic — usually something irrelevant like the Rizal retraction or as basic as Rizal’s complete full name.

When students send me a list of questions to be answered in an “interview,” I ask them to do some spadework first, and if things are still unclear, I would be happy to help. But I will not respond to questions answerable by simply reading my books that are in a language so simple, a primary school student can understand it.

But how do you deal with messages like: “Sir, pwede po magtanong? Kamusta po ang grades ni Rizal nung estudyante siya?”

Or a conversation that goes:

Student: Good day po sir [some don’t even know that Ambeth is male], I need your help po. I just wanna ask about rizal, is he really retract his catholic faith before he was exile sir? Magkakaroon po kasi kami ng debate…

Me: What are the results of your research so I can help you.

Student: Yung result po kasi ng research ko is nag-retract po siya ayun na din po dun sa letter na ginawa nya na retraction few hours before his execution, may mga evidences po, kaso nahirapan po ako humanap ng evidences sa side ko dahil sa opposition side ako.

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Me: Did you read the books of Pascual and Runes?

Student: Hindi po namen nabasa ang aklat ni pascual at runes.

Me: That means your research is incomplete. Bye.

Someone else from the same university asked: “May gusto po sana akong malaman tungkol kay Jose Rizal sir. Itatanong ko lang po sana kung mag Retract po ba talaga si Dr. Jose Rizal and if yes po why? And if no po Why?” When challenged, the student said he did some internet research and wasn’t content with the results, so I advised him to do more research.

Students today have so much information literally at their fingertips, but if they are not taught basic research and writing skills in K-to-12 and university, how will they function in the real world?

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, basic research, Looking Back
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