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“It’s all about Integration and Conceptual Change”
In Romance Philology the ordering of information extracted from sources into knowledge domains has always been part of the research process. However, the ordering of index cards containing such information according to certain categories and the setting up of relations between them has never been regarded as knowledge modelling or as the building of ontologies. Similar things could be said about ‘data’, ‘filtering sources for information’ or ‘markup’. Still today, doing research and presenting research results tends to be seen more as mental processes than as disciplined activities which need to be made explicit and taught. This state of affairs has serious implications for students. Not only is doing research and writing a ‘disciplined’ academic paper not widely taught, but methods of research and of good academic practice are also not conceived of as being of epistemological interest. Instead, they are considered to be mere skills which can be acquired in courses offered by non-academic service centres. Furthermore, as the computer is still looked upon and used as if it was just a modern form of typewriter, no need is seen to teach students a meaningful way of exploiting computer technologies for their research and writing in academic courses. If anything, students are encouraged to believe that writing an academic paper is all about ideas, creativity and genius and that the structure and the layout of a paper, the consistency of citations or the integrity of bibliographies among other things are formalities.
In order to change the concept of doing research and of academic paper writing and to foster a meaningful exploitation of computer technologies I have implemented in one of my courses of Romance linguistics a project-oriented approach where methods and tools of, and questions posed by the Digital Humanities play an important role. By involving students in the creation of a digital version of a text and showing them how to apply a TEI schema with the help of an xml-editor like oXygen or by getting them to archive the information about sources in a database like the one EndNote provides, students can actually learn a lot about texts, about data and styles, about systematization and consistency. Furthermore, the linking of information and the building of ontologies makes many aspects of scholarly work explicit to them. If the work they are doing contributes, moreover, to a portal like the one which has been created within the framework of the project (see “Von Leipzig in die Romania”, http://www.culingtec.uni-leipzig.de/JuLeipzigRo/) and which can itself be used to write TEI compliant academic papers, they not only get the chance to develop a different concept of doing research and writing academic papers, but also to conceive of the computer as a device for the manipulation of systematized data and thus also for the modelling of knowledge and not as a mere high-tech typewriter.