In our 24/7, always-connected world where we are inundated with information from all sides, the ability to identify quality resources to inform our research and
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
improving student research skills
The purpose of this article is to present an overview of why annotated bibliographies are needed in higher education, especially in doctoral education programs. The
Information cannot always be trusted. Despite popular opinion regarding the devastating impact of the Internet on the modern age, the inherent untrustworthiness of information is not new. Satire, misinformation, and disinformation have been circulating for centuries, even long before the printed word. However, thanks to the relative ease of creating and sharing content online, our students are confronted with publications created solely to entertain, persuade, and incite via incorrect or incomplete statistics.
A recent experience in class left me a bit rattled, and made me wonder if I’ve long been trying to teach an impossible skill. It confronted me with a fundamental question: What’s teachable, and what do students simply have to figure out on their own with the passage of time?
Breathes there a professor of any subject with soul so dead who never to himself hath said, “Today’s undergraduates are hopeless at research!” (apologies to Sir Walter Scott). It is easy to blame high schools or freshman English classes, but that doesn’t fix our problem. As a frustrated educator of future teachers (Clouse) and a 20-year veteran of teaching college writing and research (Nelson), we obviously sympathize and often feel blamed. We have found that a better approach is an interdisciplinary effort that gives students ample opportunities to practice and develop their writing and research skills. The cumulative effect of this approach not only benefits faculty, but our students seem to appreciate and feel less intimidated working within this method as well.
Most professors want students to know how to research and write in their fields. In fact, many degree programs now have introductory courses for majors with content that addresses these research and writing basics. However, the assumption that students learn everything they need in one course is a faulty one. All of us who teach courses for majors need to regularly revisit this content if students are to develop these research and writing abilities. Let me be specific and suggest six things professors can do that help students improve in both areas.
Community College instructors have a great deal to teach: study skills, a college orientation to education, and the actual course information for their discipline. They also know that their students must be information literate, must know how to find supplementary information for each course, how to use information effectively, and how to credit their sources appropriately. In this regard, Washington State Community and Technical Colleges have been working under an LSTA grant on Information Literacy from 2008-2012 (Washington). Lower Columbia College libraries have been using the grant to integrate librarians or library tutorials into face-to-face and online classes, thereby offering information literacy instruction to students without increasing the teaching load of the discipline instructors. When incorporated with research assignments, this instruction, along with embedded librarians, facilitates both student learning and faculty grading of assignments.
A recent survey of faculty handouts for research assignments found that most of the handouts provided details for length, citation guide style and how to get assistance from the faculty member. What wasn’t included was a critical need for most undergraduate students: context for the research topic.
As faculty working with students to explore topics of interests we frequently request that they review the literature to gain an understanding of what is known and unknown about a topic and then present their findings in an integrated manner. While many students are familiar with developing papers termed “literature reviews” or “reviews of the literature,” these types of papers frequently do not afford the students the opportunity to integrate what has been found. Thus faculty have begun to require that students present their findings and thoughts via what is known as an “integrated paper format.”
When students write essays requiring research, in the age of Wikipedia and other online resources, I worry a little, not so much about the quality of the sources themselves (that has always varied, even in the day of hardcopy sources), but about the quality or outright dearth of note taking that often accompanies the writing of research papers.