Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Students Want to Know What Afrocentricity Is

Yesterday in my WRA 125 course, I asked students to conduct a search on the term Afrocentricity. Students were then asked to come to class prepared to discuss their results. Although I did not specify which results they were to discuss, most students chose to record results that gave a working definition for Afrocentricity, so for our class discussion on the search results I asked students to identify 1) what Afrocentricity means, 2) where they searched for the term, and 3) why they chose to search in that particular place. Based on students’ searches, they found the following definitions for Afrocentricity:

  • an intellectual perspective of African people
  • a way to show Africans’ contributions to Western culture
  • something that seeks to discover and interpret info through a diff filter from Eurocentric scholarship
  • a worldview that emphasizes the importance of A people and culture.

The majority of students chose to search in the following electronic locations:

When students were asked why the majority of them chose to search in these locations, they identified the following reasons:
  • Google is easy to use
  • Wikipedia was the first result that came up on Google
  • Wikipedia is a good place to find factual information

After addressing the students’ decisions based on their responses to the previous questions, we had a discussion about how different search engines and databases yield different results, and how some search engines and databases may be more reliable than other engines. For example, after discussing the results students came to class with, I had students conduct a search again for Afrocentricity using Google, Google Scholar, and JSTOR. I then explained how Google Scholar is more reliable than Google because it provides results for academic papers written about Afrocentricity, while Google displays a broad range of results that may or may not be reliably or evaluated by researchers. I then explained that JSTOR is more reliable than Google Scholar because it contains a database of peer-reviewed articles written about Afrocentricity; while Google Scholar also contains peer-reviewed publications, it often does not exclude papers that have not been peer-reviewed by scholars and experts of a particular discipline from its search results.

Based on the results found in scholarly search engines and databases, I had students give new definitions for Afrocentricity. Surprisingly, based on the definitions for which students searched, they found similar results. Most definitions pertained to intellectual perspectives of people of African descent, or African worldviews. I then asked students to highlight words in each of these definitions with which they were less familiar. Students identified intellectual perspective, Eurocentric, and most commonly, worldview, as some of these terms. Because the term worldview is highly abstract, students first needed to identify what that term means. Most students defined worldview as a way of seeing the world, and then determined that Afrocentricity is a way in which Africans and African Americans see the world. This of Afrocentricity definition is still abstract though. As a focus for the rest of the semester, the class posed the following question as a lens for understanding the rest of the intellectual work we seek to accomplish in the course: How do Africans and African Americans see the world? More on students' progress toward understanding the African worldview to come.


k8 said...

My mls is going to be showing in this comment, but JSTOR includes material other than peer-reviewed articles too. The main problem with using google scholar is that you have to pay for most of the materials, materials the library has paid for. The same thing would happen if you tried to search one of the other databases by going to it directly online (some let you search but don't provide the text) rather than through the library , which holds a subscription to the service. Also, google scholar will have more recent materials b/c of the moving wall at jstor.

Having said that, information literacy is an important part of the educational experience. I'm glad you're talking about these issues with students and actually teaching them these differences rather than forbidding them to use a particular source.

Goodness, sometimes I am such a librarian.

dlp toled said...

I like to use the term Africology which evolved from Afrocentricity, of which noted scholar Asante discusses its popular form (among others) Afrocentric clothing, hairstyles, etc. This has evolved to Africology an academic discipline where scholarship is done with the African being the subject as opposed to the object of history and what we are doing as opposed to what is being done to Africans. It is a heightened cultural awareness that requires uses Africa as the first source or cultural reference point rather than viewing things from someone else's view or experience. So, you don't necessarily accept everything that's written a book, journal, or search engine. This leads to another question for each student: What is the cultural template or lens through which I see things? Or, "Based on who I am, how do I see things?"

Prof. PC said...

Thanks for clarifying this, K8. And you're correct to point out that Google Scholar has more recent materials, which I also informed my students. JSTOR only goes up to 2004 (I think). So there's a trade off. You might get access to more peer-reviewed stuff in JSTOR, but you'll get more recent things in Google Scholar. Also, JSTOR doesn't house every academic journal either. In our field, it houses _Rhetoric Review_, _CCC_, _College English_, _RSQ_, to name a few, but it doesn't house _Composition Studies_, _TETYC_, etc., whereas Google Scholar may include these journals in their search engines even if they don't provide instant access (that you don't have to pay for). Don't you think, though, you're more likely to find term papers in Google Scholar than JSTOR? I've found several of my unpublished manuscripts floating around on Google Scholar that haven't been peer-reviewed. Thanks for this info though. I'll pass it on to my students.

k8 said...

The date depends on the journal/publisher. The moving wall is negotiated with the publisher/copyright owner. For some journals it is as much as 10 years.

And, if you didn't know already, most academic journal consent-to-publish agreements require you to sign over copyright to the journal's publisher. The contract for ncte journals is online and definitely isn't open access friendly. I've been asking a few of the important people/people with tenure in our field to consider requesting that the SPARC Addendum be included in their contracts. It allows you to make pre-prints available, deposit a copy in an institutional repository, etc.

Robyn said...

very cool. i just faced a sort of similar thing with my students in that i wanted us to talk about what certain words mean, but i ended up presenting them with definitions instead. i thought about having them research, but then decided there were definitions i wanted them to have.

i *did* want to talk to them about where the definitions came from though because straight dictionary definitions were not the best in this case. (the terms were literacy, technology, and text, btw.) i think what you've posted here will be helpful for me to address that in the future.