Student Paper Guidelines for Using eHRAF: One Professor's Experience
by Douglas A. Feldman
Professor of Anthropology
The College at Brockport, State University of New York
When I began teaching at The College at Brockport, SUNY over eight years ago, I wanted my students in my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class to have the experience of using eHRAF in researching their papers. So I made it a requirement for their papers that they use our recently adopted eHRAF. At first, I was flexible in the structure of their papers. But I quickly learned that students who selected more than one topic and/or more than three cultures tended to do rather superficial work, while those who selected only one culture did not have the ability to do a cross-cultural comparison of their research findings.
So I set up fairly strict guidelines for students to do their papers while using eHRAF. They could only select one topic, not more, from a long list of approved topics. I eliminated topics that weren't particularly anthropological (such as those that concerned the weather or topography), and also topics that were too broad in scope (i.e.: most of the OCM numbers ending in a zero). And they must select exactly three cultures, not more and not less. This would give them an opportunity to look for cross-cultural comparisons from among these three cultures, and gain a deeper understanding of the selected three cultures in the process.
The cultures could be from the same or different continents. Students could pick cultures that they may have heard about and would like to know more, or they could pick cultures that they never heard about at all. But it was strongly recommended that they look for cultures that had a sufficient number of both paragraphs and documents in order to do their research for each of the three cultures. A culture that only had a few paragraphs from one or two documents for their selected topic would not give them enough information to write about. One the other hand, students are cautioned to avoid cultures with too much information, as well. A culture with hundreds of paragraphs and dozens of documents would overwhelm them.
In order that the students become somewhat familiar with the three cultures that they had selected, they would also need to read the Cultural Summaries in eHRAF for each of their three cultures, and provide a written brief summary of one or two paragraphs in their papers. Students would also need to go outside of the eHRAF system, and research their selected topic in an anthropological or social science encyclopedia (such as the Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology and the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences) to learn what anthropologists have written about on their topic.
A one session workshop is conducted by a librarian at the college library to instruct the students on how to effectively use eHRAF. Students are encouraged to organize their research by first selecting their topic, then selecting their three cultures, then reading and taking notes from the encyclopedia about their topic, then reading and taking notes from the three Cultural Summaries in eHRAF, then reading and taking notes from the paragraphs within the documents for each of the three cultures in eHRAF, and lastly – developing from eHRAF a full bibliography of references used in conducting their research. Students are required to list the full reference for their references cited page(s), not just state "found in eHRAF," so that they would be aware of the original source of the material they are using.
In organizing their paper, students are encouraged to begin, in their introduction, to summarize the material about their chosen topic from the encyclopedia, and summarize the material about their three cultures from the Cultural Summaries. In the body of their text, they should discuss the material from the paragraphs separately for each of the three cultures (under three separate subheadings). In their discussion and analysis section at the end of their paper, they should compare and contrast their three cultures from the evidence they found. Their paper should have text citations within the body of their text keyed into their reference cited page(s).
I have found that eHRAF can provide undergraduate students in an introductory course the opportunity to have – through a carefully structured paper – a unique learning experience on their chosen topic. It has been my experience that the quality of the student papers is greatly improved, when compared with simply letting students put their anthropology papers together from a general search engine, or by Googling it.