When students undertake research in high school, it's most often for the purpose of writing a report: students find and read what's been said on a topic (or, rather, a portion of what's been said) and report the results. Very rarely have they been invited to join the scholarly conversation, or to think of themselves as real contributors or participants. In their first-year writing classes, students will be initiated into scholarly conversations and so will need to understand the expectations, processes, and protocol of academic research. In conjunction with the Writing Program, the Library has posted on their website a list of skills that our students should have by the end of their first-year (see Educating First-Year Students ). Please review these skills as you plan your research assignments, so that you can plan using the method of backward design (in which you determine your aims and work backward to create the assignment). The library site also offers sample assignments, handouts, and a bibliography that will help you as you design your syllabus.
Students entering Dartmouth will need instruction in finding, evaluating, incorporating, and citing sources. Instructors should not take it for granted that a student will have no trouble finding a book in the stacks, or distinguishing a reliable source from an unreliable one. Our students have markedly different research skills and experiences. Even if they did come to Dartmouth with "typical" research profiles, the particularities of our libraries, as well as the discipline-specific demands of academic work, would be daunting.
Many incoming students don't know how scholarship works. They don't understand what it means for a journal to be peer-reviewed. They don't know the differences between primary and secondary source materials. They don't understand "movements" in scholarly thinking, nor are they often aware that scholars are in heated and (sometimes) centuries-long debates on certain topics. Most important to remember is that they often know nothing about the course material you are teaching. In other words, they don't know the lay of the land, haven't a clue about the shape of the conversation, aren't savvy regarding which scholars are superstars and which are mavericks in a particular field. We shouldn't be surprised, then, that students have trouble not only synthesizing the scholarship on a particular topic but also coming up with a perspective of their own.
These are big gaps to fill. While the librarians are very helpful in teaching your students how to find and evaluate sources, relegating research instruction to one or two library sessions is not the best way to teach your students the scholarly process. A better strategy is to weave research instruction organically into your course. For instance, when you discuss a work in class, ask students to consider what scholarly question the writer is pursuing. As you discuss subsequent readings, be sure to take time to talk about the scholarly conversation that the writers are engaged in. Have your students read like scholars, annotating their readings with questions and ideas that they'd like to pursue. Ask them to underline any allusions that the writer makes that they don't fully understand and to do a bit of research. Talk with them about how this exercise enriched their understanding of the topic. Send them to the stacks to find more relevant texts. Better yet, go to the stacks with them. Share with them the excitement of discovering books on the shelves.
Moreover, don't be afraid of the internet. Show students how and when the internet can be useful to them. Be willing to stop discussion to look up, online, a fact or term that you aren't sure of. Have them form questions about the readings, and then use both Google and scholarly data bases to show them how to find different sources, illustrating the difference between what's found via Google and what's found via Academic Search Premier. Show them how to interrogate a site that they find on the internet in order to check for biases and inaccuracies.
You might also talk with them about Wikipedia, comparing a Wikipedia entry with an Encyclopedia Brittanica entry, and then again with a special subject encyclopedia entry. Note how each might be useful, and in what ways. Finally you could ask students to create their own Wikipedia entry—a very revealing exercise that will reveal not only your students' research habits (the materials and methods they most commonly use) but also the challenges, benefits, and pitfalls of constructing knowledge communally.
Once you've taught your students how to find and evaluate sources, you'll want to spend some time talking with them about how to incorporate and cite them. First-year students bring with them some odd ideas about incorporating and citing sources—for instance, if you are paraphrasing rather than quoting an idea you don't need to cite it. Our students need to understand the value of intellectual property. They also need to understand that citing sources is an academic courtesy, in that it allows readers interested in your topic to follow up with additional reading. These principles are addressed in Sources, the college's document for teaching students how and why citation is essential to scholarship.
While talking with students about the principles of Sources is useful, you will want to go further and model for them examples of how a source has been appropriately or inappropriately used in an argument. Don't restrict yourself to issues related to plagiarism. Students also need instruction in setting up a quotation, and coming out of it. In other words, they are often very clumsy in contextualizing a quoted passage, and they sometimes forget to tell us why the passage they've just quoted is important to their argument.
Finally, make sure that your standards for citation protocol are clear. Let your students know which format you prefer (MLA, APA, etc.). If your discipline requires students to frequently cite sources that are unusual (music, television shows, and so on), consider supplying students with the correct citation protocol as they are likely to have trouble finding good, consistent advice for citing online.
The library offers several sample assignment ideas on their Educating First-Year Students website.
If you have research assignment ideas that you're willing to share, please send them to Karen Gocsik, Executive Director of the Writing Program.
Last modified: Friday, 12-Oct-2007 22:35:39 EDT
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