The creative mind

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

As part of the curriculum at Luther College, students take Paideia 111-112, "A two-semester common course for all first-year students that addresses questions central to the human condition." In Paideia 112, students embark on a research project. While each section of Paidea works in a different topic area, all students ultimately write a research paper that addresses a significant interpretive question and has an arguable, interpretive thesis.

In my section, our topic area is "The Creative Mind." Thus, each student writes a research paper on the life of any musician, artist, writer, playwright or filmmaker. At first glance, this might seem as if each of my students will write a report in which something happened, and then some more things happened, this person had a remarkable life, and in order to understand how remarkable this person was, we must analyze some things. Such is not the case. Instead, their analytical/argumentative research paper requires a claim with evidence to back up said claim. And, it requires an argument they have thought about, figured out and can explain via written word. Being able to do this well requires a number of skillsets, but I argue one of the most important aspects of the research paper is that it asks our students to evaluate sources, something that is incredibly relevant in our media environment.

Early in the research paper, I cull a key piece of writing on sources from one of my graduate school mentors, Peter Gregg. He writes:

A peer reviewed journal article has had anywhere between three and six experts in the field review it, comment on it, have the author address those critiques and resubmit the article, and then the article is reviewed/critiqued again and then published in a source that is read by and held in esteem by experts in the field, and that journal will often allow follow up articles to respond to claims of the original. So, when a claim is made in, for instance, 'Critical Studies in Media Communication,' we have a high degree of confidence that the reasoning is sound and supported by many other experts in the field. As a result, when you properly use an article from that source, you are transferring that credibility to the argument you make using that source, thereby making your claims about the text more valid. If your source is not credible, the argument you make using that source is, as a logical extension, less credible as well.

As part of the research paper writing process in Paideia 112, peer review is central. Therefore, much of what they are doing with their own work somewhat parallels the efforts that scholars engage in when writing, reviewing and critiquing journal articles. Again, it's not a perfectly clean comparison, but it's an in-road for students to understand what goes into a journal article being published in "Cinema Journal, Quarterly Journal of Speech," or "Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media."

Finally, by deconstructing different types of sources, we (along with librarians) help students ask important questions as they gather sources that will enhance their argument. In my mind, this is where we, as Paideia professors, set the table for lifelong learning in which our students will have to ask important questions about the sources they encounter–to decipher what's credible and what's not credible.


Thomas Johnson

Thomas Johnson

Thomas C. Johnson, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies, has taught critical media studies and media production courses at Luther since 2011. Along with teaching, his research interests include pedagogy, sport media, television studies, gender studies and documentary film.

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