Assignment 1 (Summer 2019)

Assignment 1 has two parts. The first, the Journal, is an open-ended opportunity for you to report to your mentor and classmates the progress you’ve made this week in exploring the literature and refining your idea. Each week until the Qualifier Question, you’ll submit a new journal documenting your research progress since the last week. The second, the Activity, is a more structured opportunity to practice one of the skills you’ll need as you move forward in the class. Each part is worth 50% of this assignment’s grade.


First, if you haven’t already, you probably want to peek forward at the Qualifier Question and the Project Proposal assignments. These first several assignments build toward those, so it would be useful to understand where you’re trying to get!

The goal of these first several assignments is to the point of having a project idea in time to receive a Qualifier Question. However, different students will enter the class at different places in that pursuit. Some of you entered the class already knowing exactly what you want to work on. Others of you need some time to explore. The Research Guide is there to help you explore the literature no matter what ideas you have as you enter the class.

For the Journal portion of this assignment, you should document that exploration. This will look different depending on the ideas you came in with: if you already know what you want to work on, you’ll likely document exploring the work others have done in that area. If you came in without many ideas, you’ll likely document your exploration of the literature. Regardless of your starting point, though, we expect everyone to follow the guidelines of the Research Guide, including how to find new sources and read academic papers. Your starting point will just determine how wide a net you cast initially.

Throughout your journal, you should include multiple instances of…

  • What papers you read or other sources you perused. We would expect you to look through at least 15 papers per week (but make sure you read How To: Read an Academic Paper — this number isn’t as terrifying as it sounds.) You’ll want to cite these in APA format to start practicing. You might want to peak forward at Assignment 3 as well; any sources you gather now may come in handy then!
  • What questions they brought up.
  • What you did to further investigate those questions.

Because this is a journal, it is intentionally designed to be personal; you’re welcome to include your personal background, your opinions, your thoughts, and so on. You might want to organize your journal into entries about individual papers, dates of the week, or lines of reasoning to help lend some structure to it. You similarly might not find yourself writing about each paper individually, but rather writing about collections (e.g. “These three papers [1][2][3] provided some background on different approaches to…”), or reading papers without directly referencing them in your text.

The most important things are to (a) document formal progress towards landing on a problem or question, and (b) supply enough information to get feedback from your mentor and classmates.

We would expect a good journal to be around 3-4 pages in JDF. This is neither a minimum nor a maximum, but rather is just a heuristic to understand the level of depth we would expect. We will expect your Journal to show that you’re following the advice prescribed by the Research Guide.


In the Qualifier Question, the Proposal, and the Final Project, you’ll be expected in part to write a literature-backed analysis of the space surrounding your problem. To do this, you’ll need to wield sources from the literature in defense of your claims. This takes practice, and in some ways is a chicken-and-egg problem: you use the literature to explore your problem or question, but you then use your evolving problem or question to inform further exploration in the literature. It is also difficult to learn from your peers on these assessments: did they do better research, or are there just more sources for their problem?

So, to practice writing in a formal, academic style with citations, we are giving you a prompt. Use the Research Guide to explore the literature surrounding this prompt, especially the pages on finding papers to read, reading an academic paper, writing an academic paper, and using citations in your writing.

Online education and MOOCs were praised as having the potential to equalize access to education, but critics have suggested that they are having the opposite effect and are disproportionately used by already-affluent audiences. What is the truth about the relationship between online education and equity of access? Is it having an equalizing effect, or is it actually widening the gap in access to education? In answering this, you could choose to consider equity based on gender, race, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or other factors, but you do not need to cover them all.

Note that we do not have a correct answer in mind for this question. Instead, we are looking for the extent to which you come up with an answer and defend that answer with the available literature. Note that if you find sources with contradictory conclusions, you should not select only those that support your conclusion: you should instead include the contradictory evidence, and provide an explanation for why you maintain your conclusion despite that evidence. This is what makes a good argument: putting both the supporting and opposing evidence in context.

We expect that a good answer to this question will require around 3-4 pages, excluding references; this is neither a minimum nor a maximum, but rather just a heuristic for the depth we expect. The writing for this activity is expected to be formal: avoid personal pronouns and contractions, cite appropriate literature both in-line and in the references section using APA format, and organize your response around a central thesis that you then support with evidence.

Submission Instructions

Complete your assignment using JDF, then save your submission as a PDF. Assignments should be submitted to the corresponding assignment submission page in Canvas. You should submit a single PDF for this assignment. This PDF will be ported over to Peer Feedback for peer review by your classmates. If your assignment involves things (like videos, working software prototypes, etc.) that cannot be provided in PDF, you should provide them separately (through OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) and submit a PDF that links to or otherwise describes how to access that material.

This is an individual assignment. Even if you already plan to work on a team for the project, this assignment should still be completed individually.

Late work is not accepted without advanced agreement except in cases of medical or family emergencies. In the case of such an emergency, please contact the Dean of Students.

Grading Information

As with all assignments in this class, this assignment will be graded on an 11-point scale (0 to 10), in accordance with the grading policy outlined in the syllabus. If your deliverable receives below a 9, you may revise and resubmit it once within one week of receiving a grade. Resubmissions may receive up to a 9. Note that this should not be treated as a de facto free pass to submit sorely lacking work initially; we reserve the right to deny resubmission or grade a resubmission more harshly if we perceive the original submission was lacking in earnest effort.

Peer Review

After submission, your assignment will be ported to Peer Feedback for review by your mentor and classmates. Grading is not the primary function of this peer review process; the primary function is simply to give you the opportunity to read and comment on your classmates’ ideas. All grades will come from the mentors alone.

You will typically be assigned four classmates to review. You receive 1.5 participation points for completing a peer review by the end of the day Thursday; 1.0 for completing a peer review by the end of the day Sunday; and 0.5 for completing it after Sunday but before the end of the semester. For more details, see the participation policy.