You have to connect to your topic-part 1

Thesis Research…

Thesis Research… (Photo credit: bjornmeansbear)

No matter what level of technology is available in a classroom, students need to feel connected to a topic in order to do their best writing. Extensive research has been conducted on the key components necessary to “engage students in debates that echo the controversies and discussions in their daily lives” (Newell et al 271) and yet there remains a limited conversation about meaning-making online. Although today’s “Net Gen, Google Gen, or Digital residents” (Yakel et al 23) have grown up with the Internet, many still lack the necessary communication skills to make a cogent argument. Although some may think that a high score on an SAT or AP exam produces proficient writing skills, the only way to make an effective argument is to use “any and all available means of persuasion” (Aristotle).

Today, students do not know how to make use of the resources available to them and are therefore falling behind in their ability to conduct deep and meaningful research – not because they lack the motivation to, but because technology has progressed at a faster rate than has student Internet proficiency. Yakel makes a similar assertion in “Digital Curation for Digital Natives”: “Even though technology is intertwined in our students’ lives, many do not possess the information literacy skills or strategies for learning with technology or learning how to learn new technologies” (23). For this blog post, I use a definition of information literacy skills created by Plattsburgh State University and developed by the Suny Council of Library Directors: Information literacy is the ability to recognize the extent and nature of an information need, then to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information” (Heller-Ross).

In 2013, research is much more difficult than it was even ten years ago. This is because of the unfathomable amounts of information available to students via the Internet. The students of today must become the entrepreneurs and scholars of tomorrow, and they will need to be “comfortable working in hybrid (digital and analog) environments and capable of managing media-neutral information throughout its lifecycle” (Yakel 23). In order to prepare students for a challenging digital workplace, teachers must create lessons that incorporate technology in a way that makes sense to students. They must also encourage collaborative writing – both online and in class – that support students’ need for an authentic purpose and encourages process writing and reflection. Finally, they must help students develop necessary information literacy skills that they will need to be successful in the workplace. I have designed the following 6-week unit to help students learn how to identify what kind of information is available online, to locate and evaluate those sources, and then to synthesize the data in a variety of exercises, some writing and others project-based.

When teachers create new lesson plans for students, they must be able to determine what students will be willing to do. Just like adults, some students are not technologically oriented. Most students can also differentiate between a “fluff” project and a “real” project. This difference is crucial where new information technology is concerned, and it only grows when teachers explore “the disconnect between the obligation we place on students to begin using sophisticated digital library tools for our classes and their ability and willingness to successfully use these tools to find the information that will serve them best” (Corbett 265). As the research technology available to teachers and students increases, the demands on both teachers and students to adapt intensifies. Teachers are expected to use technology in the classroom; students are expected to be able to research with the latest technological search engines and databases and networking software. The unit I will include in my later blog posts explores students technological awareness so that at the beginning of the semester and at the start of a research project, teachers can evaluate students’ technological expertise.

Computer technology is no longer a novelty. As such, teachers cannot afford to begin new practices for the sake of technology alone. Instead, teachers and administrators should first identify the purpose that the technology holds in achieving the desired effects of the course and of curriculum or county standards before investing funds for equipment and training. Scholars are studying these frequent shifts within the new technological order [which] have forced an across-the-board strategic reconsideration of what information-seeking tools and skills students must learn” (Corbett 265). The “frequent shifts” keep coming, and the pace of these shifts happens faster each year. Harrison High School desperately needs up-to-date lessons for teachers, librarians, and students so that the school can become technological competitive. Although HHS resides in a higher-end socio-economic region, the school has fallen well behind other Atlanta schools in technological readiness. In a later project, I am planning on differentiating this unit for lower grades so that 9-12 as well as Comp 101-2 (and I would add many graduate students) will benefit.

Scholars like Corbett, Head & Eisenberg, and Kolowich – as well as teachers in my own school – explore the correlation between the online research strategies our digital native students already use and the changes that teachers have had to make as an effect of these established behaviors. In his 2010 Essay, Corbett discusses the truth behind students’ research beliefs: students want to use Google over library resources, and they believe that Google is more “dependable” than a search they would attempt in the library. They also feel that Google “provides more appropriate feedback and is more time-cost effective for achieving adequate results” (267). Corbett admits that teachers have been mostly uncomfortable in allowing students to use Google, but that they have increasingly had to let Google into the research paradigm. Corbett goes on to suggest that teachers of writing should work with Google, perhaps making it (and Wikipedia-like sources) a starting point for research assignments. He recognizes the need to accept that traditional methods of research do not seem to work with students and suggests a two-fold change: teachers must accede that our net gen students want to use modern technology; teachers can achieve a happy medium between traditional and modern research methods if they are willing to use both in the classroom.

Others recognize the problems that Google has caused, however. Because students have become comfortable with the popular search engine, they tend to treat other search engines – even scholarly ones like ECSBO and JSTOR – as they would Google. Whereas Google searchers expect to put in an easy keyword and be rewarded with the perfect source at or near the top of the list, scholarly databases are a little more difficult to navigate. Academic databases have specialized information; therefore, students must employ an often-frustrating trial/error process of keyword searching before they find relevant articles. Many teachers assume that students understand the concept behind keyword searching because of Google; but unfortunately, the majority of students have little experience with systematic searching using varying syntactical choices and phrases to uncover relevant articles. Google has produced a generation that wants information faster. As a result, many students lack the deep thought and reflection that goes into true researching (Kolowich 1). My unit will help students use modern research methods, systematic keyword searches, and metacognitive reflection to conduct deep, meaningful research.

Head and Eisenberg call personal research, which is a key element of an information consumer’s interaction with the Internet, “everyday life research” (2009), which they define as “personal and having no deadlines set by someone else,” as an “open-ended source of information,” as a search to satisfy “personal curiosity” (2009, 3). The everyday research practices of students can be a fundamental aspect of research lessons. Just as people will often say that they were less “stressed out” when writing on a blog then when writing an in-class essay, students generally tend to research in a relaxed fashion, clicking and scrolling and reading until they find what they are looking for. Because everyday research usually does not include a specific rubric with a deadline, students do not feel the same kind of pressure to find the perfect source. I would like to suggest that by using Head & Eisenberg’s everyday research as a key aspect of the formal research process, teachers can help students get over the hump of starting a project, which studies show tends to be one of the most difficult parts of a project (Head & Eisenberg 2009, 2010, 2011). One of my first lessons helps students use this everyday research strategy to find a research topic and to begin their research process.

Students write on the Internet much more than adults would think, and it makes sense to incorporate lessons that utilize similar platforms. Yet, paradoxically, “despite library instruction programs and print guides, many students have no idea how or where to begin their research” (Stowe 83). In order to achieve a balance of technology, innovation, and tradition, I incorporate a stage-process unit that includes blogging for writing, everyday research, journaling, discussion, proposals, drafting, and writing the research paper. These lessons will be in conjunction with traditional teaching methods, which will not be included in these units. The lessons in this unit will also reflect research on what students say about their own research and writing process.

 I will continue the post tomorrow, complete with new lessons! I have found success with these lessons, so I hope you will try them.

Course-Related Research

Everyday Life Research

–          Information overload (the more you know, the less you know). –          Too many results from a Google search and the need to sort through them.
–          Too much irrelevant information, can’t locate what is needed from online results. –          Knowing the “answer” is online, but not being able to find it.
–          Beginning and getting started on an assignment. –          Figuring out what is a credible source and what is not.
–          Trying to find the “perfect” source. –          Figuring out if something is up to date.
–          Not knowing what to look for, yet still sifting through articles that might fit. –          Knowing that everything is not online, especially when searching on the web.
–          Trouble finding books needed on library shelves. –          Never can find enough information on the obscure topic being explored.
–          Can find the citation online, but cannot find the full-text article in a database. –          Once a great source is found online, how is it found again when it is needed?
–          Scholarly databases or library books are out-of-date. –          Don’t have a computer at home, so online searches for information involve some travel.
–          Finding statistical information online.  
–          Having to change and refine how to write a research paper from class to class.  
–          Not having access to same materials as professors (e.g. rare documents).  
–          Having to buy a source unavailable on campus.  
–          Trying to find the .05% of things of interest not on Web.   
–          Feeling that nothing new is being said and feels like the same information again and again.-          Conducting research to meet another’s expectations.   

4 thoughts on “You have to connect to your topic-part 1

  1. Thank you for this insightful and timely article. As personal research is now a daily part of most students’ daily lives, teachers must instruct them in the key differences between conducting personal research and academic research. – Terry Portillo (Ready Set Teach)

  2. Pingback: You have to connect to your topic-Part 2 | A Daily Journal of my Comp/Rhet Dissertation

  3. Pingback: Lessons for Writing in the Digital Age | A Daily Journal of my Comp/Rhet Dissertation

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