Using Research as a Learning Process
It is important for students to be able to evaluate resources when conducting research. At the beginning of many research projects, students are told they cannot use Wikipedia. Do they know why Wikipedia is not appropriate for a research project. Do they know to ask any of the following questions?:
- What are the author’s credentials?
- Does an address ending in .org really mean it is a good source no matter what?
- How does bias play a role in credibility?
- Is bias a deal breaker?
Setting strict rules for what students can and cannot use for research does them a disservice. Don’t tell them to not to use Wikipedia, or worse provide them with a list of sites they are limited to. Students should be taught how to locate and evaluate credible resources for use in their research. One more thing before we get started. Before say anything in the direction of the “kids these days” argument, there are not many adults who use these strategies either. Here are some suggestions to consider with assigning research projects in your class.
- Conduct keyword searches: Students sometimes
look for the easy way out, but another possibility is that they just don’t know better. Many students will punch in the simplest term, and go with what comes up first in the search. This method can also send their final project in the wrong direction because they will take their research where the information leads them. Teach them to try different terms or to use search strategies to narrow their results right up front.
- Take advantage of search filters: Show them how to filter the results of their searches. Results can be narrowed by several filters including date or type of resource (image, video, news, shopping, maps, flights, apps). Combining the search tips from the previous tip with the search filters feature can really help refine a search.
- Check for source credibility: What qualifies someone to write about something. There are no qualifications necessary to write about something on the Internet so we need to be our own quality control. Things to check for include the author’s credentials, who they are writing for (peer-reviewed journal versus a random website), timeliness, professionalism of appearance, and bias. A great resource for teaching students how to review the credibility of a site can be found on Catlin Tucker’s site in her Got Credibility post.
- Conduct more research based on results: Research is not one and done event. Gaps will be identified as the project progresses. Offer students opportunities to go back and fill in these gaps during the process.
- Use an annotated bibliography: An annotated bibliography is a list of references with a set number of references and a brief description for each entry. Have students explain why the source is credible and relevant to their research.
- Do not set a mandatory number of references: Set a number of references for the annotated bibliography, but not for the final product. This can move them away from just putting sources in the paper to meet a quota. Explain that not every reference from the annotated bibliography needs to be in the final paper, and it is fine to add one that you find after the annotated bibliography is completed. Be sure to explain to students that a reference should not be in the bibiliography unless it is cited in the paper and vice versa.
- Collaborate: A class of students and a teacher have much more experience than any one member of the class. Students often find a resource or tool that I have never seen before. Make class a learning experience for everyone.
- Present: Have students present their findings. There should not be anything new in the presentation that was not in the paper which makes it more manageable. Set a template. One option is: What was your problem? What process did you use to address your problem? What were your results? What did you learn about your topic? What did you learn about or from the process?
- It’s okay to argue: The value of critical thinking is spelled out everywhere in educational literature and standards. It is okay for students to disagree or argue a point under two conditions. They need to be respectful, and they need to support their opinions and perspectives. Just saying you heard it somewhere or someone said something is not good enough. They need to support their assertions with evidence.
- Reflect: Take time to discuss the process with the students, or incorporate a reflective piece into the project.
Here you have ten things to consider when having students conduct research in your class. What strategies or tips do you have to share. Let us know in the comments below. Follow me on Twitter @JoshuaElliott3 for more tips and ideas.