Education / Work / writing

Research Topics I May Set On Fire

Man, I hate this time in the term. The. Worst.

My department requires all ENC1101 — basically freshman comp/term 1 — students to write an informative research paper. It used to represent intellectual inquiry around a topic that was  interesting from an academic perspective. That was 10 years ago.

Now, it’s just the equivalent of a middle school book report.

I suppose it’s partially my fault since I’ve encouraged students to research on a topic they’d genuinely like to learn about and communicate to me. In other words, yes, they get to choose their own topics. Back when I’d started teaching for this school, it worked. Their topics were sophisticated, their writing was involving, and their information — for freshmen just learning how to sift through databases — was impressive.

Today, I want to set their topics on fire.

So  few of them seem to have interests outside of anything at all. So few of them want to learn anything. So few of them are willing to put in any effort. Instead, it’s all about rote memorization for tests (“Are you going to give us a study guide for the final?” = “I just want the answers for the final exam and intend to forget everything for the next course.”) and whether or not their research topic has “a lot of information about it” (translation: “I think it’s going to be easy to write about it.”). Naturally, I have a list of forbidden topics, ones they cannot write about, topics that every person with half a brain knows are overdone and often based on emotion rather than evidence. Every term, however, that list grows longer.

I fear I’m at a point where I will actually have to assign everyone the same damned topic because there’s only so much I can take when offered the following as “topics”:

  1. Hitler
  2. Stress
  3. Depression
  4. Sleep disorders
  5. Hitler and genocide
  6. ADD or ADHD
  7. Pregnancy
  8. The Holocaust
  9. Living a healthy life
  10. Was Hitler a fascist?
  11. Social media
  12. Diabetes
  13. Autism
  14. The death of Hitler
  15. Cosmetic surgery
  16. Anxiety
  17. Nazis
  18. Cyberbullying
  19. Hitler was definitely a bully
  20. Divorce
  21. Teens and drinking
  22. STDs
  23. Auschwitz
  24. Texting and driving
  25. Hitler is responsible for all the problems in the world, including texting and driving.

 

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14 thoughts on “Research Topics I May Set On Fire

    • I’d like to say they had, but alas, it’s not a lit. course. They read essays and research paper examples in comp. I don’t know where the Hitler trend comes from. That said, I’ve a dear friend/colleague who DOES teach a course in Holocaust literature, but it’s an upper level course with comp. prerequisites, so I doubt they were inspired by a course they’ve not been able to take just yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The last one cracked me up 😀 Seriously, what is it with the Hitler obsession? Although I suppose it’s better than picking completely shallow topics to write about…
    Way back when I was in school and we couldn’t just find anything on the internet, our profs would give us a sample reading list to base our topic on, so it was helpful because while still broad, it kind of steered us in the right direction. Maybe you could add a stipulation that a percentage of the source material they cite in their essays should come from literature rather than wikipedia entries? They may resent it but at least they’ll have to put in the effort and not fall back on the ‘easy’ popular topics…
    (or, you could just tell me I’m talking out of my ass, because I have zero experience teaching)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, they’ve restrictions on sources they’re to use. That is a long lesson that takes up to 2 class periods. One of the major requirements is that they must use sources from the academic databases our library is subscribed to. That automatically narrows the topic field down in terms of resource credibility and reliability. That said, however, my current problem is that few of them have decent reading skills, so the reading involved in their research is quite difficult for them. That takes yet another couple of days.

      It all boils down to the fact that few of them read for pleasure and have good role models at home who read as well (and encourage them to read, too).

      As for the Hitler topic du jour, I think it’s exactly what Jillian (?) stated — It probably has more to do with the politics right now and the steady string of media-influenced declarations/analogies (“BANNON IS A NAZI!” “Trump is a fascist!”).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ah I see. I agree that the Hitler theme is probably due to the current political situation (isn’t it a small relief though, knowing that they aren’t Trump supporters?).
        As far as not having reading skills, I can imagine how frustrating it must be for you. I think that aside from not being raised in a home where reading for pleasure is encouraged, a lot of it has to do with the fact that no one really has the attention span any more. I’ve noticed that the only time I’ll actually enjoy a book is when I’m on vacation (nothing’s better than relaxing at the beach with a good book!) because I can’t deal with all the distractions in my every day life. Audiobooks are a good solution but, again, if you didn’t grow up reading, it’s hard to suddenly develop a love for literature in your late teens/early twenties…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, no doubt a little touch of ADD is responsible as well (and I’m not just throwing in that acronym for politically incorrect shits and giggles either). I’d also pin some of the blame on technology since so many of them can’t seem to release themselves from their precious cell phones. However, technology has since become a poor excuse since ebook reader apps are readily available for free.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly, there’s no excuse!
        At the risk of sounding like an old fart, as much as I enjoy technology, I’m actually happy I didn’t have a cell phone etc when I was in school and hard to go to the uni’s computer lab with its crummy dial-up if I wanted internet access.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah right, spring break eh? So you’re sleeping better these days? That’s awesome!
        I’m good – a lot of baking going on so I have my hands full. My best friend’s puppy is celebrating her first birthday tomorrow so I’m baking a cake for us humans AND a cake for her 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you babe!
        Apparently it is a thing, there are bakeries who specialize in doggie cakes, which I find a bit too much, but oh well. The one I made was basically just oats, banana, eggs and peanut butter – ours was chocolate, peanut butter and caramel,both were pretty much demolished:

        Liked by 1 person

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