Teaching Research

The other day, I talked briefly about teaching the intangible skills of problem solving and juggling many bits of information at once. Today, I’d like to talk about the art of teaching research skills.

I don’t actually remember how I learned to conduct basic research. From an early age, I was asking difficult questions, and the response quickly became, “Go look it up.” By the time I got to middle school, I was a master of cross-referencing a card catalog to get exactly what I wanted. By the time I got to high school, the Reader’s Guide was my best friend. I even got terribly excited when the new edition came out.

Recently, I was asked to teach a study skills student who was working on a packet on using the internet to conduct research. The student in question is quite internet-proficient. There really wasn’t much to teach. We hopped on the search engine, I gave her a term to look up, and then I realized what the best lesson was.

She scrolled down the page and grabbed the first Wikipedia entry she found, and I just about screamed. A number of our students think Wikipedia is an authoritative source and rely solely on it when doing research for their papers. I had to explain to her that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source, and should only be used in conjunction with other reliable sources. This led to a rather interesting discussion of what constitutes a reliable source online. We looked at several pages and analyzed them for reliability. It was a very interesting exercise.

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