Local Inquiry: Investigating the University Ecosystem

Overview. We began the semester reading about issues of food and have broadened those issues to look at their agricultural, philosophical, sociologic, medical, and journalistic dimensions. There are many more dimensions we might have looked into, had we enough time to do so. Our fundamental question: “what should we eat” has led us in so many directions that it is impossible to say that there is a simple answer to that question.  Often, this is the case with seemingly simple questions—they lead to many other branches of learning and knowledge.

A University highlights the interconnectedness of these branches of learning and knowledge. More complex than any of us probably realize, our University is like an ecosystem in which individuals and communities interact and depend upon each other in the pursuit of learning, knowledge, research, socialization, creativity, and discovery.  Therefore, in our final two assignments we will investigate different aspects of this “ecosystem” in order to better understand how it functions and to make suggestions for change within it.

In the two previous projects, you worked with a group of peers to investigate, explain, and argue about a debatable topic.  In this project, you will work on your own to investigate and explain a particular aspect of CSU.  You’ll choose a function of the University such as a course, a major, an association, a service, an aspect of campus culture, an organization, a department, etc.  You’ll investigate what it is, how it works, and how it functions within its larger context (CSU).  To do this, you’ll conduct field research: observation, interviews, surveys, etc.  Then you will write an explanation of your findings to incoming first-year students.

This project will prepare you to complete the last assignment for CO150, which will be an argument that evolves out of your investigation—you might raise awareness about a problem you uncovered, you might write a letter to a CSU official asking for a change to be made, etc.  There will be at least as many possibilities for this assignment as there are functions of the University; as you work on your investigation and explanation, keep an open mind and take notes on any ideas you have.

Purpose. Your goals for your investigation are to conduct field research in order to learn everything you can about your topic so you can tell your readers about it in your explanation. Your goals in the explanation are to use your research to summarize the aspect of the university you investigated—that is, explain its who, what, where, when, why, and how to your audience—and to explain how it functions within its larger context(s). 

Audience. The audience for your research is mainly yourself—you will be observing, interviewing, etc. to broaden your own understanding of your topic.  When you write your explanation, you should imagine incoming students as your audience.

Subject. Explore an aspect of the local ecosystem of the CSU campus and surrounding community.  This could be a site of academic, social, cultural, recreational, political or personal interest to you and to new students at the university.  You might choose a course, an academic program, a service, an activity, an organization, etc.

Author. Present yourself as part of the “ecosystem” you are investigating.  Show that you have, as objectively as possible, conducted an open-minded inquiry.

Example and Strategies.
Say you chose this course, CO150, as your topic.  Your issue for investigation could be: why is CO150 a required course?  To research, you could:

Your explanation could then explain to incoming freshmen why they have to take the course and how it develops needed academic competencies.  Your subsequent argument could then be written either to the University Curriculum Committee arguing to change the requirement or to an incoming student convincing them it's a useful course.

To choose a topic, ask yourself:

Sources: You need to have five to seven sources in the investigation part of your portfolio.  You need to have at least three different genres in your portfolio.  We will discuss these possibilities in class.
Length: Your explanation should be around 3 pages in length.
Due: Week 14
Worth: 15% of your course grade.