Topic choice in writing assignments Levels of learning: Prescription and invention Managing the fear factor: Student concerns General and psychology-specific topic selection tactics Tension: Format prescription vs. content/topic invention
Levels of learning: a taxonomy of cognitive engagement for learner • Receptive: simple transmission of information; all analysis, synthesis and problem-solving done by the instructor • Applicative(near transfer): learner must demonstrate their understanding, but answers are specific and distilled from content instructor presented • Extending (far transfer): answers are specific, but content is extended to a different or authentic context
Levels of learning taxonomy cont’d 4. Generative: problems are more complex and ill-defined than questions posed in levels 1-3; students’ answers cannot be objectively assessed as right or wrong --> writing assignments with teacher-selected topics?
Levels of learning taxonomy cont’d 5. Challenging: Students identify their own problem to solve, related to, but not limited by instructor-presented content --> writing assignments with self-selected topics?
Levels of learning: Prescription and invention • Levels 1-3: Both questions and (correct) responses are prescribed • Level 4: Questions are prescribed, but responses are more fully invented in that there is no single correct response--> most academic writing is here • Level 5: Both questions and responses are invented by the student himself--> this is exemplified by dissertations, but can undergrad students benefit from some form of this?
Fear factor: Psy 3902W student perceptions “The hardest part about deciding on a topic is….” -Finding something that will keep my interest -Being overwhelmed -Making sure my topic is not too narrow or broad -Clarifying which ideas will be harder to complete -Finding sources -Having lots of ideas only to find out someone has already done it -Making my research original -Finding gaps in the research
Fear factor: Psy 3902W student perceptions (cont’d) “One thing that my instructor/ section leader could do to help me decide on a topic is…” -Make sample papers available -List topics past students have been successful with -Provide general ideas or topics -Brainstorm ideas as a class -Give an outline of main areas of research -Let me know what “good” journals are in my area of interest -Ask about our interests and then offer insight or direction -Provide doughnuts during the decision-making process
“Topic” selection as “problem” definition • “Too often students try to write on a “topic” when they should be trying to write on a problem…. To take as your focus a topic results in meandering, disconnected papers…” • Instead, to create an academic problem, “shift your focus from what you know about a subject to what you want to know about a subject” (22).
General topic selection (i.e. “problem definition”) tactics • Identify keywords or concept to explore. Ask questions that connect the keywords. • Select a fact, then create a list of items that might explain the fact. • Concept map to identify relationships without needing to explain them at first. • Use word associations to create analogies • Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Psychological “problem definition” tactics: Sternberg • Challenge the evidence testing the theory: find methodological, statistical, or logical flaws apt to be most difficult for student researchers • Generate an analogous theory to explain data: apt to be unconvincing and/or difficult for student researchers • Limit the theory: narrow the conclusion derived from a study (i.e. by population, setting, etc.) • Extend the theory: broaden conclusion derived from a study (i.e. by population, setting, etc.)
Psychological “problem definition” tactics: Campbell • Advice to all researchers: “…our business is not to ‘test’ theories but to determine the particular conditions under which a particular assertion is true and the particular conditions under which it is not true.” • “While it is difficult to know what ‘supporting a theory’ means, to ‘understand’ something is to be able to specify the conditions under which a substantive relationship will in fact occur” (174-175).
Identify and connect keywords Explain a fact Concept map Word association to create analogy Journalistic questions How to search PsycInfo! “Explain another researcher’s finding” Good for distinguishing key terms used in the lit Not useful, except perhaps for theory creation Who, when, and where useful for theory extension/ limitation Applying general tactics to psychology writing (read the lit)
Scope: Prescription and invention revisited • The APA Publication Manual has changed from providing “recommendations” to providing “rules” • Now unequivocally endorsing Introduction-Method-Results-Discussion form • Journal outlets mandate APA-style, and not to acquaint students with this would be putting them at a disadvantage if they have hopes for graduate school (in psychology, the number of students who consider grad school is sizeable)
Prescription and invention: Teaching vs. training APA-style • It has been my (limited) experience that students have trouble with the idea that (research) topic is self-selected, yet form is almost entirely prescribed • Vipond argues for teaching rather than training APA-style, so that students will avoid regressing to thinking of academic tasks as having a single right answer (i.e. as in levels of learning 1-3)
Vipond’s suggestions for teaching APA-style • How would the same research be presented in different academic vs. mass-market outlets • Contrast APA-style with MLA or U of Chicago • Use of ad-hoc headings (as in Science, Nature, and Physical Review) and also IMRaD form
Don’t: Use conventional topic selection tactics in psychology without reading literature first Portray topic selection as theory development Emphasize internal validity concerns in topic selection phase Emphasize scope of paper in prescriptive terms (i.e. APA-mandated) Do: Encourage keyword lists, concept mapping, and esp. who?, when? where? as topic selection tactics after reading lit Portray topic selection as theory limitation and extension (test external validity) Emphasize scope of paper from perspective of reader expectations (?) Summary: Recommendations to help students with topic selection in psychological writing