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« Where to start improving research assignments? | Main | An ancient library folktale »

BFTP: Why do research?

My horoscope in today's paper read: LEO ( July 23-Aug. 22) Don’t attempt taking on a complicated task that you’ve never done and lack any know-how. Chances are you’ll bungle the job and screw things up so badly, it’ll have to be totally ditched. Sounds like a good day to just read a book, go for a walk, and take a nap. And people say horoscopes are useless!

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post (while in China working with the International School of Beijing (has it really been five years ago?) February 22, 2006

“Why exactly do we ask kids to do research in the first place?” Such an elemental question but when we ask it, we're poking a real sacred cow in education.

When I ask that question to any group of educators or parents, I get some of the following responses: We ask students to do research so that they…

  • Acquire skills needed in post-secondary schooling (especially the forms and formats of academic research).
  • Acquire practical, every day survival skills.
  • Acquire content knowledge at a deeper, more profound level.
  • Acquire and engage in higher-order thinking skills.
  • Acquire tools for persuasive communications.

So my follow up questions would be: Are these reasons ever at odds with each other? Do some uses ask for greater emphases on some aspects of the information literacy process* than others? Do all uses share any common characteristics? Might all demand questioning on the part of the researcher? Do all kids need all skills?

Those of us who ask students to do research need to be asking ourselves:

  • How has the “information explosion” impacted research? How has technology, especially the Internet, changed the skills needed? Has Web 2.0 impacted research?
  • What should students expect from the library and librarian? The classroom teacher? From online experts?
  • Do schools need a set of common research assignment expectations of all teachers? How might a research expectation relate to academic honor codes? To requirements of asking for higher order thinking skills? For the use of multi-media in the findings?
  • How is the “Net Generation” different from preceding generations? Has there been a change in student background, ability, or expectations? Is relevance now a prerequisite to any assignment, especially research?
  • How important is voice? Is a first person narrative acceptable when communicating research findings? 
  • Should teachers' concentration be on formative or summative assessments of research? How can we develop self-assessing students?
  • To what extent should schools be bound by the expectations of the next level of schooling? (You can't do that because that's not something college professors will accept.)

Change must come to the way we ask kids to do research. What does that change look like?

Or is "that's the way we've always done it" the only response necessary?

If my horoscope improves during the week, I may share some of my ideas about the subject.

*An information literacy process model usually some or all of these components:

  • Framing a good question
  • Knowing sources
  • Searching
  • Evaluating/selecting information
  • Synthesizing/organizing information
  • Communicating
  • Evaluating

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Reader Comments (3)

A dramatic shift has been the use of digital resources as the most widely used kind in research. I have to force students to use a real book in their bibliography/works cited. I don't know if that upsets me or not.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Hi J.,

I felt bad for my son a few years ago when he had to abandon a topic that appealed to him (very current) because he could not find the "print" sources his teacher demanded.

Why are hung up on print or electronic? Seems to me we should be demanding student justify the authority of the source regardless of its format.


March 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I completely agree that the way we ask students to do research is changing and should be changing. Students are no longer locked down by using only the resources in their school libraries as they used to be. Students have an array of places to look for information to use on research papers via the internet- their options are endless.

However, with these new advances come new lessons we have to teach our students. We need to be teaching them exactly how to look for and find this information. We need to take time to show them what the best search engines are to use and what is the correct way to narrow down a topic so a search engine will actually bring something back. Even more important, we now need to take time to teach our students what a credible source looks like. Students have more responsibility put on them now in the research process because they don’t have a single room that holds all the information they need and has already been pre-approved. Students have endless sources to use and we as teachers need to show them what is appropriate to use and what is not. If nothing else, this skill is imperative post secondary school when students decide they’d like to use the internet to teach themselves how to remodel their bathroom or find credible voices to back up a new idea they have at work.

And, personally, I’m fine with a student not using a paper book on a research paper. As you said, times are changing and so are the ways students do research. If they can find just as credible information online as they can in a book (and I’m sure they can, especially because many books are actually online now) then I say go for it.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterlinarijGVSU

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