Research Paper Frustration

Meredith Farkas highlights one of my other frustrations with research paper assignments in her blog post, “I need three peer reviewed articles” or the Freshman research paper.    With today’s technology and search engines, it is certainly much easier to search for and find ‘peer-reviewed’ articles, which is great.  However, it seems we are often doing our students a disservice because we have skipped so many important steps in helping students understand the various types of information and why each is important for a variety of different reasons.

In the following paragraph from her post, Meredith perfectly articulates one key result I feel often happens in the well intentioned research paper assignment:

Another thing that the focus on requiring students to only find peer-reviewed sources does is that it distances them from research and information literacy. Information literacy should be seen as a life-long process of information seeking. Information literacy is about finding reviews of cell phones to choose the best one for you. It’s about researching an illness you were just diagnosed with. But when the focus is on telling students that the only quality stuff comes from the peer-reviewed literature, we are distancing what students learn in school about information literacy from what they will do in the real world. Information literacy instruction should be relevant to students’ lives and help them develop transferable skills, but in so many cases, the assignment the students have forces us to focus on getting them through a single class, rather than on giving them skills they can use later on.

We want our students to be excited about doing research, about digging around for new information, about making connections between unrelated bits of knowledge they’ve acquired.  That is what learning is all about.  Let’s face it, requiring 3 (or whatever magical number) peer-reviewed sources is not going to spark their desire to learn more, especially when they are only going to read the introduction or conclusion to get a relevant tidbit to stick in their paper to meet the requirements of the assignment.  Getting them to realize that doing research is really about satisfying their own curiosities, well, that’s why I became a librarian.

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