My BTW 101 students astonish me. Their semester-long research project requires, among other things, that they formulate (and inevitably re-formulate) a topic statement, articulate (then reconsider) their information needs, and then plan (and ultimately revise) their research strategy. The “Custom Pathfinder” project demands not only advanced-level information literacy skills, but also an enormous faith in a research process that seems to make no sense.
Yet despite the agony and ambiguity, my students carry on with their research, their evaluations, and MLA citations. I try to explain this project’s rationale and justify its difficulty, but my words keep falling flat.
“As I come to a close on this pathfinder I feel a mixture of things. I don’t know how I got this far, but somehow I did it. Looking back, I see how it all fits together. It’s like using a tractor to make a picture in a corn maze. You follow your instructions and it seems like you are not accomplishing much. It feels like you are doing the same thing over and over again. Your tractor breaks down a few times, and by the end, it is barely being held together. But it’s not until it’s finished that you realize that your work was not in vain. Once you see it completed, you realize that it was not your goal but rather your journey to that goal that was what you were really after. The knowledge you gained and the lessons you learned – these are what you were after, not some picture in the corn. You realize that these are worth all the trouble, frustration, and work.”
It seems that Sam is something of a philosopher. But he’s a classic teenager, too. “Another feeling I have,” he says, “is simple relief that it is finished.”
Congratulations and thanks to Sam and all my “pathfinders” – you make teaching pure joy.