In a recent class on essay topics I went to great lengths to introduce students to the notion of a research problem. A research problem is not just question of having good ideas and understanding what an essay topic is asking of students; rather, a research problem accounts for the discursive, practical and material context of the argument that is constructed. I shall write a post on this when I have more time. What I want to raise here is the question of having course readers versus having the readings available to students in the library for photocopying.
The readers seem like a good idea; they collect all the necessary readings together in an easily accessible single document that is affordable to students (normally the cost is the same or only slightly more than the cost of photocopying all the readings). What the reader excludes however, is the dimension of intellectual work involved in actually going into libraries and finding texts for research. There is a material dimension to ideas beyond their ideality and students must also learn how to access these ideas through the material and structured discursive contexts. Having the readings available in closed reserve forces students to learn how to use the library and gets them used to actually going into the library to search for ideas. What do other tutors (and perhaps unit coordinators) think?
A related problem is getting students to understand that searching the massive online journal databases through the library website is almost as easy as searching on Google. There really is no excuse for non-academic online resources appearing in essays.