Augustana Center for Teaching and Learning
Introducing Research Concepts – Dell Jensen (Department of Chemistry)
Many departments have methods, seminar or literature courses taken by majors to introduce research concepts. Our department has CH451 Chemical Literature, where majors are shown the available research journals and databases and taught techniques for effective search and retrieval of information, after which we turned them loose to prepare research papers and presentations. After seeing several mediocre papers and presentations during my first two years my question was simple, “Do students REALLY understand the research materials they use?” And my answer was NO; I believed the problem is that research literature tends to be laded with discipline-specific (or even sub-discipline) language and students lack the necessary skills to comprehend and interpret the literature. My solution was to teach some basic skills through series of assignments, which I have outlined below.
The first assignment is designed to help students read for content and build disciple-specific vocabulary. Several short articles (3-4 pages) are stripped of the title, abstract and all references and distributed to the class. Individually, students read the article, take notes and compile a list of words they don’t know for which they are expected to find definitions. The second assignment focuses on reading comprehension, technical writing and emphasizes the structure of a research article. Students are expected to use their notes and write a title (limited to 15 words) and abstract (100 words) for their article. I find that students really struggle with this and want to write a “correct” title and abstract; I emphasize that this is their work and it may not correspond well with the published article and in some cases the published title and abstract are not necessarily good. Warning: this is also where I have the experienced the greatest amount of plagiarism by students finding the original article.
The next assignment develops oral communication and stresses the need for revision and clarity. In small groups (2-4), students rewrite the title and abstract with greater limitation of the number of words, typically 10 and 60 words, respectively. The challenge here is to get the feedback on the previous title and abstract back to the students. I believe these three assignments develop the basic skills needed for reading research literature and could be universally applied. I have also tried several additional assignments in the past but these have been discipline specific, like diagram the mechanisms presented in the article or describe the transformations that occurred in the synthesis. A new assignment that I hope to try this year with the small groups is to require a one page research brief, similar to an executive summary. This will have students thinking about what has been done, but also consider what questions might need to be answered and the direction of future research.
I would be happy to discuss these assignments in more detail and would appreciate your feedback and ideas for improvements and other skills that could be addressed.
Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) Conference - June 18-21, 2008
The 28th annual STLHE conference will explore the assumptions, practices, challenges and possibilities of internationalization, broadened world views, and the impact of globalization trends in post-secondary settings. How can institutions of higher learning incorporate international and intercultural dimensions and a heightened awareness into the educational process? How do cultural, linguistic and experiential differences among students require educators to adjust approaches to epistemology, academic practice, and self-expression? Internationalization has inspired attention to diverse practice in response to the disparate needs and goals of all students as they learn on and off campus, with each other, with their teachers, on their own.
Workshop proposals: January 15, 2008.
All other proposals: January 31, 2008.
For additional information on the conference and instructions for submitting proposals, please visit: www.stlhe.uwindsor.ca