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Creating effective Research assignments

Creating effective Research assignments

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Creating effective Research assignments

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  1. Creating effective Research assignments Megan Lowe, Reference Librarian

  2. Session Overview • Gripe Session • Assumptions & Misconceptions • Teaching Students to Assess • Elements of Ineffective Assignments • Elements of Effective Assignments • Benefits of Effective Assignments • Q & A Time

  3. Gripe Session - Prompts • What excuses do your students give you for late or sub-par work? • How often do you deal with plagiarism? • How often do your students tell you “The Library didn’t have anything on my topic”? • Do you find yourself extending deadlines frequently? • Are you shocked by how much of the students’ research comes from the Internet? • Does it bewilder you that they would use the Internet so much for serious/professional research, versus the Library?

  4. Gripe Session – Get It All Out!

  5. Assumptions & Misconceptions… • …about students • …about assignments • …about library resources • …about librarians

  6. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Students • Students know how to research • If they don’t, they’ll learn independently • They understand the importance of research • They know how to use the library • They wrote research papers in high school • They learn about writing research papers in the English comps classes • Students are technology-savvy • Students plagiarize on purpose

  7. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Students • They’ll ask questions if they don’t understand something • The students have the syllabus; they know when assignments are due • They will ask the librarians for help if they have problems doing research • They’ll use the library’s resources if I forbid them to use the Internet • Students will go to the Write Place for help • Students possess critical thinking skills

  8. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Students Unfortunately, research debunks many of these assumptions • Numerous and continuing studies on library anxiety in undergraduates indicate that they haven’t overcome it • Undergraduates are afraid to ask for help, either from librarians or teaching faculty • Standardized testing in K-12 has reduced the amount of college preparation students are receiving • Students are tech-savvy about certain things, namely social media, but not necessarily about tech in general • Plagiarism is rampant because students truly don’t understand what it is and how to avoid it

  9. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Students Debunking assumptions, continued • Students in general do not time-manage well • They’re not so good about reading and reviewing syllabi, or adhering to deadlines • Writing is NOT the same as researching – English comps teach students to write, NOT to research • Students will still go to the Internet for research, even if they’re forbidden • Students do not necessarily make contact with the Library and its resources, and usually won’t unless they HAVE to – they don’t seek them out independently

  10. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Students Debunking assumptions, continued Ultimately, students DO NOT understand • What research is and how important it is • The concept of authority • What scholarly communication is • What the process of research accomplishes • Information-seeking strategies • Differences between resources • How to articulate ideas

  11. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Assignments • The requirements of the assignment are clear • The assignment is appropriate for the class • The resource requirements for the assignment are clear • The resource requirements for the assignment are reasonable • Students won’t use the Internet for this assignment if they are forbidden to in the requirements • The students have enough time to complete the assignment

  12. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Assignments • The students are prepared for the assignment • All the students’ questions about the assignment have been asked and answered • The students have access to a copy of the assignment and examples of completed/acceptable versions of the assignment • The assignment is up-to-date and has been tested recently for appropriateness (i.e., I’ve completed the assignment myself recently)

  13. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Assignments Debunking assumptions • It never hurts to check an assignment carefully and make sure it doesn’t fall into any of these assumptions/misconceptions • Students often do not understand assignments but are afraid to ask for clarification • Students complain that professors won’t answer emails about assignments • Students don’t understand “what the professor wants!” in an assignment

  14. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Assignments Debunking assumptions, continued • Students want to provide the “right” answer and simply complete the assignment; the process doesn’t interest them – they want to fulfill the requirements of the assignment and get it done • Sometimes an assignment seemsclear to us, but we are, of course, more sophisticated and prepared • Sometimes an assignment is more advanced than the class is – make sure the assignment is reasonable for your students’ level

  15. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Resources • The Library has the resources students need • The Library has the journals students need • The Library has the books students need • Students are familiar with the Library’s resources • Students know how to navigate libraries • Resources change very little, and, when they do, notifications are sent out • Resources don’t go away

  16. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Resources • Students always have access to resources when they need them • Students will ask for help with resources they find difficult to navigate • Students understand the differences between different kinds of resources • Students understand how to use resources to complete assignments • Students understand the roles resources play in their assignments, research and otherwise

  17. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Resources Again, research suggests that all of these are not the case in the least. • Our millennials are called “digital natives,” meaning they’ve grown up with technology…but this does not guarantee skillwith technology, only that it’s familiar and somewhat omnipresent • Access to technology does not guarantee improved academic performance, nor necessarily increased access to qualityinformation

  18. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Resources With regard to the resources themselves… • Resources *do* change, and sometimes without warning – the Library doesn’t always get a warning • Resources *do* unfortunately go away • The Board of Regents withdrew its support of the LOUIS consortium – consequently, we lost a few resources; however, they have restored some funding, so some resources have likewise been restored, but not all • In the current economic climate, publishers are struggling, too, and periodicals and databases are sometimes discontinued for cost-saving reasons

  19. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Resources Debunking resource assumptions, continued • Resources – both electronic and print – are not as intuitive as most librarians and scholars would prefer; consequently, students struggle to understand what resources can do and how to use them, as well as when to use them • And despite the decreasing prices of basic computers and laptops, a lot of students must still rely on the University for access

  20. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians • All librarians do is shelve books • Alternately: what do librarians *do* anyway? • Librarians can’t help me with my research • The librarians look mean/bored/busy • The librarians don’t understand what I’m looking for • The librarians aren’t helpful • They’re always busy when I go to the desk • I asked for help before, but the librarian didn’t find me good information

  21. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians • Librarians know everything (or, at least, think they do) • Librarians can read minds • Librarians don’t want to collaborate • Librarians don’t want to teach • They usurp teaching faculty as subject specialists • Librarians aren’t really faculty • They don’t appreciate the needs of my discipline • They don’t appreciate the needs of my students • They don’t appreciate my research needs

  22. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians Again, research comes to the fore, with regards to these perceptions. • In order to be an academic librarian, one must obtain an ALA-accredited Master’s degree • Most reference librarians spend a great deal of time helping others do research as well as conducting their own research, and engaging in activities just like teaching faculty (teaching, publishing, committee work, etc.)

  23. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians Debunking assumptions, continued • Sometimes, librarians are busy when we’re at the desk – helping other patrons. It’s the nature of the job. But the bored/busy thing is not a valid excuse • And it’s true – sometimes librarians don’t know what a patron is looking for, and sometimes librarians do give patrons bad information. But patrons must be willing to communicate with the librarians. The assistance one receives from a librarian is greatly dependent on how well one communicates one’s needs

  24. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians Debunking misconceptions, continued • Librarians don’t know everything, and we don’t read minds, unfortunately (it certainly would make helping tongue-tied freshmen a whole lot easier) • That’s not to say there aren’t know-it-all librarians. There’s always a few bad apples in every bunch. • Librarians and faculty have historically had bad relations (like, going WAAAAY back), but there is a genuine desire on the part of librarians to collaborate with and assist faculty – collaboration makes EVERYTHING better (like a scholarly stew)

  25. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians Debunking misconceptions, continued • Librarians have no desire to usurp faculty as subject specialists, though that is the root of the historical enmity between the two groups. Librarians are often called subject specialists, it’s true – but the librarian’s role in subject specialty is to guide students toward resources in that subject, not to function as true specialists in the subject • Though a significant number of librarians often have other degrees in other fields and can be considered true subject specialists in those fields

  26. Assumptions/Misconceptions: Librarians Debunking assumptions, continued • Librarians – at least, in academic libraries – *are* real faculty. Most are tenure-track or tenured and adhere to the same – or at least similar – requirements that apply to teaching faculty • And librarians may not intimately and specifically understand a field – after all, they are information science specialists, not true subject specialists – but they can and want to help students and faculty alike • And only by working with faculty can librarians address the needs of students and faculty

  27. Any Questions Thus Far?

  28. Teaching Students to Assess • If research was simply the process of finding information, we wouldn’t have any problems allowing students to use Wikipedia • However, legitimate research utilizes legitimate resources – and legitimate resources are considered quality resources • So part of the challenge of teaching students to research is teaching them to evaluate resources for legitimacy and quality

  29. Teaching Students to Assess • As students become more familiar with research in their chosen fields, they will more easily recognize legitimate publications and information sources • As experts, you automatically recognize those sources – but students lack that familiarity, and it’s a familiarity that grows only with experience • Considering the width and breadth of most disciplines, learning *ALL* the relevant and appropriate publications – periodical, monograph, organization, professional, trade, etc. – in a field is a feat indeed

  30. Teaching Students to Assess • But before you start feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of teaching students ALL of the appropriate publications in a discipline – whether it’s for an introductory class or a graduate class – there are faster and more universally-applicable ways of evaluating resources • There are two frameworks that can be used to evaluate resources – these frameworks can be applied to any resource, regardless of discipline

  31. Framework #1: Scholarly vs. Popular • This framework is most often applied to periodicals, but it can be used for monographs and websites, too • In this framework, resources are divided into two categories, scholarly and popular • Scholarly resources are deemed acceptable for research using a list of characteristics • Popular resources are NOT deemed acceptable for research and use a similar list of characteristics

  32. Scholarly Resources: Characteristics • Students can use the characteristics as a checklist when assessing a resource for appropriateness • It’s not necessary for all characteristics to be met, and no doubt not all characteristics will be met • A good analogy for scholarly resources is vegetables – you don’t always want to eat them, but you know you should • I often say: “Rule of thumb: if it sounds like something your professor would approve of (that is, maybe kind of boring), it’s probably scholarly”

  33. Scholarly Resources: Characteristics uses jargon related to the discipline  peer-review process may contain graphics, illustrations, etc. publishes real research (case studies, experiments, etc.) written by experts do not contain ads covers one subject/discipline very thoroughly intended for people in that discipline or field of study (including practitioners)

  34. Scholarly Examples • Journal of the American Medical Association • Shakespeare Quarterly • Journal of Nutrition • Journal of ER Nursing • Library Quarterly • The Renaissance Quarterly • Textbooks, books written by experts

  35. Popular Resources: Characteristics • Students can use the characteristics as a checklist when assessing a resource for appropriateness • It’s not necessary for all characteristics to be met, and no doubt not all characteristics will be met • A good analogy for scholarly resources is candy – it’s not good for you, but it tastes good, and it’s easy to get • I often say: “Rule of thumb: if it sounds like something you’d read while on vacation or standing in line at the grocery store or Wal-Mart, it’s probably popular.”

  36. Evaluating Resources: Popular Regular language/slang No peer-review process has lots of "purty" pictures publishes articles of interest, news, opinion pieces mostly written by journalists usually have lots of ads intended for anybody to read usually covers a variety of topics

  37. Popular Examples • Sports Illustrated • Real Simple • People • Cosmopolitan • Martha Stewart Living • GQ • Romance novels, pop fiction

  38. Framework #2: Web Evaluation • This framework is usually used to efficiently and quickly determine whether a website could be used in research, but it can also be used to assess other materials as well • There are no categories in this framework – simply a list of concepts to bear in mind when viewing a resource that one is not sure of • Again, these concepts can be used as a checklist when assessing a resource for use in research

  39. Framework #2: Concepts • Accuracy – is the information verifiable in other, independent resources? • Authority – what are the credentials of the author(s) or organization(s)? • Coverage – how in-depth is the resource? What is its scope? • Currency – how old is the information itself? How old is the resource? • Objectivity – is there an obvious bias involved?

  40. Any Questions Thus Far?

  41. Elements of Ineffective Assignments • Sometimes, on the surface, an assignment seems good and reasonable and totally doable… • …but there may be lurking problems • And sometimes there’s operator (that is, student) error, as we’ve discussed • But it is important to understand the pitfalls that can happen in assignments, in order to avoid them, or to anticipate problems students may have

  42. Ineffective Assignments: Pitfalls • Bear in mind the assumptions and misconceptions – that’s a good place to start. Remember the saying about what happens when you assume something… • Using the same assignment year-to-year means students can get answers from older friends and classmates, instead of doing the work • Resources change, even when they remain – interfaces, platforms, search functions, these things are not carved in stone, so giving students particular instructions can be tricky

  43. Ineffective Assignments: Pitfalls • Sending a whole class to consult a single resource – like a particular issue of a particular journal – will only end in tears and confusion and despair • Will the nature and/or structure of the assignment encourage plagiarism and/or cheating? • If you want your students to know about a library resource or service – like Interlibrary Loan – are you only making the assignment to force them into contact with it?

  44. Ineffective Assignments: Pitfalls • Is the research assignment made at the beginning of the semester – or listed in the syllabus – with little reference to it throughout the rest of the semester? That is: are you actively guiding the students through, holding them accountable, or are you trusting them (i.e., tossing them in the pool)? • When students email you with concerns or questions about assignments, do you respond in a timely manner?

  45. Ineffective Assignment: Example • The following assignment is from a second-year geography resource course • It’s a research assignment given at the beginning of the semester, to be turned in by the end of the semester • On the surface, it seems reasonable – but a closer look reveals some problems • Let’s take a look…

  46. This assignment also involves a great deal of critical thinking, of asking students to evaluate and analyze scholarly resources…students often have problems simply locating scholarly sources; asking them to synthesize multiple sources, at this level, is unrealistic. Topics are too general and assume students will be able to narrow the topics into something more manageable. It also assumes that the students have functional information-seeking skills. It’s also not explicit with regard to the professor’s expectations, what kinds of resources will be acceptable, and a myriad other elements that students would not intuitively know to include or consider, like style format. These requirements are intended to help the student focus and expose them to the literature – but they assume a sophistication with resources and the research process that students don’t possess. Geography Course Research Paper Assignment Choose one of the following topics: Biodiversity; Ocean pollution; Transportation of hazardous waste; Desertification; or The tropical rainforest. In your paper, discuss: The nature of the issue Its natural/biophysical aspects What has been done on the issue since 1980? What is being done on the issue currently?

  47. Making It Work The aforementioned assignment is salvageable, with a little tweaking: • Explicit expectations and requirements • Employing a series of supervised steps • Deadlines for drafts • Peer review • Consultation with professor (where feasible) • Narrowing the topics more -OR- allowing students to select their own topics, using the given list as a starting point or as examples

  48. Elements of Effective Assignments • Providing a sample paper or assignment (or past paper that received a good grade) so that students can see what a paper for your class ought to look like (this will help them get a feel for your expectations) • This will allow them to see the chosen style format in action, including quotations and citations, two concepts students often struggle with • Listing resources that are acceptable – journal titles and database titles, for example • Setting a limit on the age of resources is a good idea, too – current usually encompasses the last 3-5 years, for example

  49. Elements of Effective Assignments • Explicit requirements/parameters, including elements such as: • Length (word count or pages) • Style/format (APA, MLA, etc.) • Headers/footers/page numbers • Font/spacing • Deadlines • Types of resources that are acceptable • Type of paper (persuasive, report, etc.)

  50. Elements of Effective Assignments • Rationale/objectives/goals for the assignment • Like student learning outcomes (SLOs) • Supervised steps, such as • Q/A session about assignment • Thesis statement • Outline • Preliminary bibliography – annotated or not • Abstract • Introductory paragraph • Peer review