I'm up this year, after a break of a couple years, to teach our intro graduate research class. I've taught it before with fair success (or so students said during their graduation assessment interviews: things like the class being useful and such), but I want to do it way better.
So, I thought I'd think out loud a little about it. Dr. Virago, over at Quod She (is there anyone who doesn't get a silly grin on their face just at that title?) has hinted that she may do a post on how she teaches her research class. I'd also be interested in other people's experiences, both as students and as teachers.
Part of the difficulty of doing a research course in English is that we don't tend to share a single methodology in the way that a lot of fields do. For the most part, we're working with unique stuff (a novel, a play, a poem), and we take all sorts of approaches. In broad terms, we tend to approach things historically and theoretically, sometimes overlapping those lots, sometimes little. The difficulty is that knowing historical and cultural context about any given era takes a long time; knowing much about every possible context?
And it's not just knowing historical and cultural stuff, it's knowing how to get at that stuff in a given field. I know there are ways to get at LOADS of early 20th century periodicals, and that it's a really interesting project for students to choose a periodical and read a whole year of it, paying attention not only to the articles, but also to advertising and such. But I have no idea where I'd begin to look for those periodicals, especially at our university. (Okay, I know I'd go to our librarians and to my colleagues who do early 20th century lit, but on my own, nope.) Part of our long apprenticeship in English involves learning to access stuff, learning to read it (in Latin, secretary hand, whatever), and learning to interpret it. It matters, for example, that we call the "Geneva Bible" the Geneva Bible, and that we have some ideas about what that means to readers.
So, I gather, most folks teaching research make some choices: teach broadly, and hope to know enough to introduce students to lots of areas. Teach within one's own field, and hope that the students gain enough in that field to learn on their own in their own field. Then there's the added problem of actually having the necessary resources at my school (thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for EEBO!).
And theory is just as, or perhaps even more, difficult!
So, the question to the internet: If you've had experience with a research course, what's the most important thing a student should learn in a research course? What are the best ways to get a student there?
What projects give the most bang for the buck?