Putting Scholarship into Practice: Online Undergraduate Journal, Actions, Forms, Techniques

By Kathryn Webber, Managing Graduate Editor of CHASS College Computing

James Tobias

Professor James Tobias’ enthusiasm for his online undergraduate journal, Actions, Forms, Techniques is matched only by his eagerness to encourage undergraduate education and research in the Humanities at UCR.

In a recent discussion, Prof. Tobias noted the success of the project by pointing to the impressive reaction of the undergraduates themselves. Students have been “elated” at the opportunity to have their work published. The first collection of essays published in Actions, Forms, Techniques was culled from an upper-division course on Critical Methods, English 102. It was made up of work by undergraduates Amy Frank, Amber Swann, Alfonso Jiminez and Stephanie Samtoy. Articles selected for publication must be submitted to an editorial board, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to experience the rigors of publishing in a research environment.

Prof. Tobias has chosen an electronic forum over print for several compelling reasons. In terms of professionalization, he feels that electronic publication will play a large role in the future of academic careers, as demonstrated by the increasing abundance of electronic journals. Furthermore, Prof. Tobias suggests that the framework of an electronic journal can create different possibilities for the exchange of ideas. This format, which allows for easy and inexpensive reproduction of research, encourages scholars to participate in important conversations without claiming ideas as their own exclusive intellectual property. He also suggests that technological innovation is intimately connected with youth culture in that both demand a “medium to master, define, and rhetorically shape.”

Asked to explain the rather abstract title of Actions, Forms, Techniques, Prof. Tobias explained that “action” suggests the kind of scholarly pursuits that the English Department as a whole is currently involved in: “bring[ing] to light not only the literary meaning of historical texts but their political, cultural, or gender contexts in periods ranging from the Medieval to the Renaissance, the Victorian, and the contemporary and the post-colonial.” “Forms” points to the wide variation in the media which the English faculty is using from “texts,” in the conventional sense of “literature,” to film and interactive work. “Technique” is perhaps the most slippery of the three terms because it involves the methodology for using “forms” put into “action.” Prof. Tobias describes technique as bridging the gap between receiving and producing. He contends that the achievement of “literacy” as a scholar of literature means being able to produce one’s own text; “readers become authors through the technique of writing.”

Devoted exclusively to the publication of undergraduate work, Actions, Forms, Techniques will continue to develop and encourage the work of this particular group of students. For example, the journal will work in tandem with the English Department’s Writing Program in publishing critical essays which have won the Undergraduate Writing Award. Prof. Tobias feels that a forum dedicated to undergraduate work is crucial in helping students to see that their work is not meant simply to satisfy a set of requirements; rather, undergraduate writing is about “producing knowledge” and gaining access to “the gateway to even higher paths of learning, even higher levels of achievement, in the form of graduate school or professional school advancement. Producing knowledge: that’s what we’re here to do at a research institution.”

Prof. Tobias welcomes feedback and suggestions about the future distribution of Actions, Forms, Techniques at james.tobias@ucr.edu. He would like to acknowledge the support of Major Instructional Improvement Grants, Innovative Uses of Computing Grants, and the English Department. Thanks also to Alex Tran, programmer, Jequetta Bellard and Daniel Besink.

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