Vol. 15 : No. 10
A Student's Journey
Gretchen E. Chamberlain
Editor's Note: One of the most cheerful aspects of editorship is the prerogative to select outstanding material for our readers. Usually this comes from recognized authorities in any number of fields directly or indirectly associated with Distance Learning - after all this is a Distance Learning Journal dedicated to praxis and research. Gretchen Chamberlain in "A Student's Journey" has captured a rare essence of scholarship. She is not a recognized DL practitioner, nor even a doctoral candidate. She is an undergraduate senior at Northern Arizona University: her major is Microbiology. However, her contributions to our understanding of the learning process within the Distance Learning arena are considerable. This is well worth a careful, thoughtful reading.
Learning About Culture
(Assignment #1 - First Draft)
The first thoughts I had about taking an Internet class were centered on fears of an altered style of learning. How could a student possibly be able to learn about humanities without listening to a Ph. D. certified instructor give his/her views on the matter? I did not realize that I would appreciate this style of learning so soon in the course. This initial thinking of mine is a prime example of the ethnocentric thinking of many American students like myself. Every culture is victim to this because of the source of knowledge given to an individual.
A child learns from his/her parents, who have in turn learned from their parents. This Ivan Pavlov pattern of classical conditioning modeled by a salivating dog prompted from a clanging bell is a sad reflection of much state university learning. Classical conditioning in the way one should learn in a college course has taken a toll on my brain shown in my initial feelings on this course. As I read the Hexadigm, I realized that I related too much at the suggested approach of looking at humanities, however the lid on my box is only beginning to open. The six layers of the Hexadigm suggested by Dr. Bensusan is an excellent alternative to the "traditional" approach of looking at any part of a culture.
The base of the Hexadigm consists of Cultural Sequences, Mutual Influences and Regional Diversities. These three pieces signify the simplicity of the model. In mathematics a base of two does not cover enough surface area to stack upon and using a base of four finds surface area being wasted. Bensusan makes a fine point about looking at history from a three-sided approach; looking at how people act, live and interact depending on where they are from and how and when they interacted with others. An important point that Bensusan notes is on the perspective from which a history is told. In an American history text that I read as a fifth grader I learned about American Indians and how they were savages that speared the colonists. I vividly remember even seeing pictures of dark skinned people in loin clothes throwing spears at unsuspecting settlers just trying to pass through. I can almost guarantee that a Native did not write that book. This image of Native Americans was nothing like I experienced this summer as I lived with the Oglala Lakota Indians from May to August. The reasons for my stay are not as important as the lessons I learned. I became the minority for the summer for the second time in my life and saw the damage that had been done to a people first hand.
There is no textbook that accurately describes a culture. There is no way a student or researcher can learn the true heart of a culture unless he or she travels to that culture and spends much time asking questions and learning how to be sensitive. Of course there will be people that do not want outsiders there. There will also be people who are excited that someone took the time to learn for himself or herself. This is perspective at its finest. The perspective of the individuals themselves tells a more accurate story of their people instead of one like myself telling about it later. The things that I experienced I could never express accurately, nor would I try to give my ignorant interpretation of the Lakota people. I credit those like Bensusan that try to teach those willing to learn about other cultures. I encourage that to be a base to learn the cultural sensitivity issues before entering the situation of the individuals. For example, before entering the Rez I was briefed on how to be sensitive to Lakotas when I am speaking to them. I learned from a non-Lakota that it is impolite to look an elder in the eyes because to a Lakota, eye contact is direct link into the soul. It is also impolite to walk in front of elders because they have earned the right to go whatever place they want to. These are a few of the many things that I would never probably know unless someone had taken the time to teach me.
This triangle base of ways to understand a culture is weighed down by the last three pieces of the Hexadigm: Modernizing Technologies, Revised Interpretations and Expanding Comprehensions. These three topics are best understood by splitting them as Bensusan did, into two parts. The first, Modernizing technologies is best represented in its own category, while the other two are connected. Technology is a vise that continues to narrow people's perspective on the world as it increases their needs. As more technology is made available, a person feels less able to live without it. Depending on the lifestyle that one chooses, there are certain aspects of life that are required. One could take the simplest approach and be homeless. It is certainly possible to spend every night at the Sunshine Rescue Mission and dodge finding a job (each day as they send everyone off to look for one), while reaping the benefits in the evening of a warm meal, bed and change of clothes. For a different lifestyle that would cause one to end up taking this course, a computer is needed. That is, if it was desired to change.
Bensusan gave a historical timeline of technology and as I read it, I wondered what the average college student would think if taking a "shower" in the morning required pumping water out of a well, heating it on the stove and pouring it into a basin. When water is not available from a faucet, "stinky" is not what results from a 20-minute jog. So often the word "need" is mistaken for "want". The last part of the paradigm of Revised Interpretations and Expanding Comprehensions deals with the action of the other four. Now that we have this perspective on humanities, what do we do with it? How do I change my thinking to a more open-minded approach to learning? How should I react to my new gained knowledge?
I could rebel and stop showering, let my armpit hair run wild and take up an image of one who does not care what the world's standards are on appearance. I could throw away my TV and stop using the 30-second story interpretations of an over-made-up person as my source of daily news. I could even live permanently on the Rez and pretend that I am Lakota so that I can have a lifetime experience of another culture. Instead I choose to look like a rich American girl and watch as people judge me for my new Adidas shoes and new car. I do not want every Navajo that I encounter to know that I have sympathy for him or her even though I know something about their culture because of my one summer where I saw the effects that European settlers had on the Lakotas. I don't tell of the time I talked to an elder and he told me that he grew up in a boarding school where his mouth was washed out with soap for speaking Lakota. Even though my heart aches for the Lakota people, by changing my lifestyle I cannot take back what happen to that man. I can only be that man's friend, and try to show him that not all Anglos are like that.
Visiting a culture is the best way to learn that culture's perspective. Reading about it is only reading about someone else's perspective on that culture. This aspect of learning is the only topic that I would consider important enough to make the Hexadigm into a Heptadigm.
However, Bensusan offers an important challenge to me in his six-stepped outlook in taking another perspective on world humanities.
The Beginning of Research
(Look for Sources - Post #1)
Like most of you, or some at least, research is something that is dreaded. For myself I begin to think of the long hours I have spent in the library trying to find the print form of the book or article that is viewed in front of me on my computer screen. Of course, the fact is that I have been in the library by this point for a total of 5 hours and have no research to research and I begin to feel frustrated, tired, thirsty and hungry all at once. My eyes begin to burn from looking at the computer screen for so long. I haven't moved from my chair in 2 hours. "How can the time be going by so fast?" I haven't even started reading any research about my topic. I am still looking for it.
I know that if you are having trouble with this assignment you are reading this. I know that if you are having trouble it could be due to the fact that you can't find any material to research. For those of you who are living on campus and taking this class you will benefit the most from this post. For those of you that are off campus and do not have access to the hard copies of the library, I think you will benefit as well. In the next moments I am going to take you step by step through my research process. Since I will have the liberty to comment on what I found later, I want to take the time to help those who are lost when it comes to researching a topic.
The first place I begin when I am researching is by doing a key word search over a search engine on the Internet. For example, I type http://www.dogpile.com. In the box to start searching I type in the topic I want to research about. This in my case is Epidemics. After I hit search I can scan through a list of hundreds of broad topics on epidemics. Some of them are lists of different epidemics that have occurred over time. Some are specific stories or new research being done on epidemics. From each web site I print out different site I have visited. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU REMEMBER THE URL OF THE SITE. On most printers it will print in the lower left hand corner. If it doesn't, you need to remember where that site is for future reference. It is very tempting to just print out the paragraph you need. When it comes time to CITING your source in a paper, you will not know who is to give credit to for what you found. Since we are all honest and do not want to plagiarize, remember where you got it from. This will prevent you from being tempted to commit immoral acts at 3 a.m. when you actually sit down to write your paper and you can't find the source so you make one up. I know how this is because I have been in that spot.
The second place I look for information is in movies. This might sound strange but movies can give you an interesting perspective of an event. For my topic I could watch 'Outbreak' or 'The Plague'. These movies are about epidemics and can give me information and a visual feel of epidemics. However, movies are the least accurate usually and I must be careful when using them to do research. Just like with the Internet, I need to write down all the information about the movie for referencing purposes. I would make sure I have noted the Title, Producer, Film Company, Date and anything else needed for a works cited reference. I stumbled upon a website that gave me a list of movies relating to epidemics.
The third place I go to for information is the library. This is the place I dread because no one ever taught me how to use the online catalog. I would spend hours trying to find books and articles. Finally one day a librarian saw Gretchen at her breaking point crying for help. Here is where I will break down how I find information in our library.
The NAU library can be accessed by http://www.nau.edu/cline/. This website is very confusing but with a little knowledge can be navigated in such a way as if you are floating through the library. From the library homepage I usually begin finding books. Books can be found by clicking on the left hand side of the page where it says 'Search the Catalog'. I click here and pick either 'word' or 'subject' from the pull down menu. From here I type in what I wish to research. For my case I typed epidemics. This brought up an entire list of books on epidemics. I click on the books until I get to the page that tells me where in the library it is and if it is available at that moment. Because I am fairly unfamiliar with where the books are located in the library I write down its LOCATION and it's CALL NUMBER. Here is where the librarians come in handy. I often times ask them for help. I have found that if I am prideful and do not ask I end up wasting more time than needed in the library. When I actually find the section of books relating to my topic, I almost pee my pants with excitement because there are so many!!!
The last place that I research is in the periodicals of the library. This is where those of you who live in Havasu will benefit because you do not need to be in the library to get this information. This research method is a very reliable source because it consists of articles published in accredited journals whereas the Internet in general can have Joe Schmo giving you his opinion on epidemics. Not that his is bad, but it is good to look at all angles. Now, to access periodicals from my home computer I must go to the NAU library home page and click on 'begin research'. From here I 'chose a database>>'. For epidemics I started with 'Arts and Humanities'. This will bring you a list of different databases that contain abstracts and articles from journals (magazines.) It is important to pick a database that has a little yellow icon next to the title that says 'Full Text'. This means that you can obtain the whole article. It isn't much help to read abstracts all day. I chose 'History Cooperative' to search from. This takes you to the website of that database where you can search different topics and be given articles that people have written on those topics. Periodicals are great for science topics because they give very current information that has been published. Today in my research I obtained an article from September 2001. That is great for researching topics that are always changing.
These are just a few of the research methods I used today while I was searching my topic of epidemics. I am interested in finding out how others researched so that I can get more angles to look at my topic. I hope that for those of you who are lost at researching, this post was helpful. I know that I haven't commented much on the substance of my research but I wanted to give others a chance at feeling ease while researching.
The Source of the Matter
(Look for Sources - Post #2)
In my first post I described how I did my research. In this post I hope to effectively analyze the data I found. I will be asking the following questions about each type of research material while spending extensive time on books due to the fact that each book is different. What do I know about the author(s)? What is their perspective? How is that a bias for them? When did they write it? How does that affect their perspective? How can this reference material benefit me in a study of epidemics?
The first reference materials I obtained were scientific periodical articles from various prestigious journals. Applied and Environmental Microbiology is a journal that I have found myself turning to a lot in my major because many of the articles are written by famous Ph.D. scientists who have spent years researching particular topics in microbiology. I found several articles from this journal on-line through their website, one of which is entitled "Molecular Analysis of Psudomonas aeruginosa: Epidemiological Investigation of Mastitis Outbreaks in Irish Dairy Herds." This article sparked my interest in my research study because it is about a microbe I have worked with. Many of these articles in this journal are on topics I cannot even pronounce let alone research about. This article is written by 8 scientists and contains information I can understand and is relevant to research when studying epidemics.
The perspective of the authors in this piece is strictly of a scientific interest in a study of the biological effect of epidemic outbreaks in cows. This cues me to the fact that they may have biases about their research fields. They may feel strongly about epidemics based on experiments they have done. They also have strong perspective scientific points. They do not care about the effects that having low cattle rates has on the people because of economy. They do not care about the social and political implications that this epidemic has. They are out to prove to me, the reader, about their findings. This is evident in the way they present the material to me. The article is broken down with physical subtitles such as, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results and Conclusion.
The next type of research I found are Internet articles from the UsGenWeb Project, a Government funded program that studies epidemics. This site consists of a list of epidemics that have occurred over the span of two hundred years. This site is written by people who are being paid by the Government, of which I am not convinced always presents true data. Nonetheless, it is a perspective to consider when writing a paper. Some potential biases for me to consider when using this resource are that they do not care much about the social effects that epidemics have on Native Americans. This is evident to me in the fact that the list is composed of only epidemic outbreaks in the northeast US in towns like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. This site is great for my research in finding specific dates for outbreaks where other source might just say that the epidemic outbreak occurred in the mid 1700's.
The next source I found is books. This research tool is very important for several reasons. Books provide great introductions with the freedom to provide unlimited detail about history and instances. It is not animated like websites so most of the data is substantial and can be analyzed more in depth. However, books are written most times by one or two people. This makes the perspective smaller with more bias. I checked out 10 books on epidemics and after reading the introductions I quickly realized that each other has a different style and interpretation of epidemics. For example, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence by Robert Boyd is a book about the diseases that Europeans have brought to the Haida people of the Northwest US. In his book he has Haida people tell their interpretation of epidemics while giving scientific evidence of epidemics in the area. This gives two perspectives in one book, both of which have their own biases. The Haida people are looking at it from a spiritual approach, describing the Europeans as Evil Spirits because they brought death. We all know that isn't true, or maybe it is. Boyd's' biases include those of a non Haida trying to interpret their stories into his own style of writing. This changes the fact that I can't take the words of the Haida in these books as theirs. It is second hand story telling no matter how good Boyd's intentions are.
Other books I checked out include a medical book on epidemics, which again is very scientific and factual. Great because there is little room in science for personal opinions. I checked out several books that look at Epidemics from only the effects they have had on Europeans. This is a very ethnocentric point of view to consider when writing about my topic.
Lastly, I found book reviews written by Graduate Students from prestigious colleges such as Brown University and University of Oxford. These are great because it is another perspective on the same book that I am reading. I printed out two reviews from Boyd's book from different people. Both people provide a summary of how they interpreted Boyd's book. Interesting to compare that to my own Interpretations......
There are several other sources that I obtained that also cause me to question them. I am thankful for reading the Hex and Bias Factor before beginning my research because it helped me to see that researching a topic takes many more sources that I like to find. However, it is great because it helps me to not be lazy in my research and just find enough to state the facts. I want to find out as much about Epidemics that I want to from all over. Over the next few days I will be watching movies about them. I will comment on movies in my next post. Until then... Does anyone have a perspective that I didn't see? Stupid question. Please comment on my post and ask me questions to get me thinking.
Final Thoughts on Sources
(Look for Sources - Post #3)
After a long week of trying to manage all of our other classes that require our time, we find ourselves struggling to actually find the time to go out and research for ourselves like we were challenged to do this week. I know that I have and I'm sure there are some of you out there that have too. To take one last stab at analyzing my sources I want to apply it to everything that I have learned so far in this course.
First, the hex's divine correlations to my sources.
Laura Pierce enlightened me to this viewfinder and I saw amazing ramifications the hex has on research. All of the stages of the hex can help me look at my findings more in depth. I envision all of my sources piling on top of each other in chronological order by the era that the perspective was seen in. This is its relation to cultural sequences. Most of my book sources would be similar to the bottom layer of the Indians. My movie sources would come next with the early colonials. The last three layers of Africans, Asians and European migration are similar to my periodical sources. The way that each source has significance in my research is the same way that each culture has influenced what America is. Similarly in Mutual Influence, each source is bouncing off each other like my book reviews bounce off the book they are written about. The different perspectives of the narrators are my Regional Diversity.
Of course Technology plays it's role in the different ways I am able to obtain my sources and also influencing how they are shaped. Movies have the ability to add entertainment to the picture while periodicals do not allow narrative interpretation as much. This leads to me. I become Expanded Comprehension and Revised Interpretation in my research. I am molded and changed because of what I have learned in my studies.
The Bias Factor has been touched on more specifically in my last post; however, another aspect to think of in regards to biases is how what I have learned in this class influences me to think certain ways about my research. Learning how authors are biased can definitely benefit me in being partial to their opinions. What about taking it to the next level?
Where I become bitter and outraged at an author because of his ethnocentrism and refuse to use him as a resource. At that point I am limiting my perspective and becoming another factor to the negative aspects of biases. I must learn to respect all sides of opinions in my research and be able to filter how I will use that person's perspective in reference to its context.
It is important to keep these ideas in mind while I am researching my topic and life. Using the skills learned of finding resources can also be applied to life.
Taking what I experience in its context and for what it's worth is important for keeping an open mind and an open heart to learning in life. The world is my classroom and using the Hex, Bias Factor and different sources I can become a better researcher of my life.
About the Author
Gretchen Chamberlain is a senior at Northern Arizona University and is prowling after a degree in Microbiology. She will be speeding across the country post graduation (December 2001) to work as a junior high youth leader of Trinity Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gretchen is mastering the ropes of the online experience through Dr. Guy Bensusan's Humanities 382 class. She is anxiously waiting graduation, however, she is a bit distraught that she had not engaged in this astonishing learning experience prior to this class. Gretchen is ecstatic to serve the young people of our country, sharing her gained knowledge.
Gretchen may be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org