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Untitled 3I’m just finishing grading essays for the online History of Psychology class I am teaching and am again struck by the students’ tendency to stick with a Google search when conducting research rather than go to the rich, online academic journal database the university provides for them.

Access to hundreds of online academic journals is one of the biggest perks of being a college student.  With just a few clicks students have access to full text versions of just about any academic journal article they want, yet students often neglect this opportunity in favor for a quick Google query.

An important part of the college experience, and indeed one that prepares undergraduates for graduate school, is learning how to conduct higher-caliber academic research and integrate that research to make one’s own supported arguments.  But, with how easy it is to conduct a quick web search, this appears to be a dying art (perhaps among academics too, which is scary!).  How can we inspire students to avoid Wikipedia and Google and build stronger research skills by going to the virtual stacks?

Make it a Requirement

This sounds simple enough, but will intimidate new learners.  Which is why numbers two and three are important.

Show Them How

If knowing how to conduct quality research is either a formal or informal learning objective in your class, then it is worth spending time teaching students how to use the stacks.  Write or record a tutorial or conduct a synchronous session where you show students how to use the university’s library page and, in particular, the online journal databases.

Point Them to Resources

The school’s library team may already have a tutorial available, or a help desk that gives students direction.  Provide the contact information or link for this service in your classroom.

Reward and Encourage Effort

If you read a student’s paper and they have made good efforts at using academic resources, make note of it in your feedback and make it clear that they getting a higher grade on their assignment for using this resource over another.

Direct Them to Google Scholar

If students are more comfortable with Google, they can find higher quality research here.  Once they develop this habit, the “stacks” might be more approachable.

Emphasize the Discussion Section

We tend to blossom into better readers of academic journal articles in graduate school.  But for undergrads, the articles themselves can be intimidating.  We can start slow and encourage students to focus on the discussion section of each article to get the main points.  This is a good place to start for them and provides them with more information than the article’s abstract will.

Highlight the Practical Benefits

More and better research gives way to more and better ideas.  This makes the writing process easier and, as an added bonus, it helps students reach that minimum word count.  That might provide some motivation!

I’d love to hear some of your ideas.  Please comment below with them!

6 Responses to “7 Ways to Help Students Conduct Higher Quality Research”

  1. Michael Griffith

    Very good concise article with useful tips! I find any research daunting to students in lower-level courses, especially those returning to college after some period of time away from an academic setting. To this end I begin them with “baby steps”, allowing them to use simple sources, then moving on to progressively more academic/professional and scholarly material leading up to final presentations or papers.

    • Brooke Shriner

      Thank you, Michael! I agree, baby steps :) I think this is why its a good idea to get a good feel for the students in the class. Sometimes when you get a roster of 25 students its hard to get a handle of “where they are”, especially before you read the first assignment. An icebreaker activity where you ask the class to tell you a little bit about where they are in their academic journey can give you the information you need.

  2. Robert Moore

    Simplistic, but useful guidance. Instructor feedback is crucial regarding writing in general and research methodology in particular. Be sure to proof your own writing when giving guidance to students and teaching professionals (see the improper use of “to” in the third paragraph of your essay-“(perhaps among academics to, which is scary!).”

  3. Teresa Martinelli

    Both undergrads and graduate students struggle with the required “scholarly sources.” There is no reinforcement or guidance from other courses taken on online and so students continue doing same-old-same-old that is using the WWW for the “quick-fix.” But I do appreciate these 7-markers as solid guides of which I believe I do 5-very well but 2 are great pieces of advice – I’ve not previously utilized but can easily incorporate – Thank you Brooke.
    In the same way that online learning is convenient both to instructor and student, so too is it more challenging and time consuming. This is a reality the online student does seem to grasp. Failure, I believe, is in marketing and recruitment. Colleges and universities “sell” the product but fail to indicate that work, effort, and commitment remain requirements while access remains “convenient.”

    • Brooke Shriner

      Hey, you are welcome, Teresa! Yes, I see how the word “convenient” unfairly and incorrectly connotes “easy.” Its a stereotype we have to address…and its a delicate balance because we need to do so in a way that doesn’t intimidate or overwhelm the new distance learner.


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