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Teaching Research to Upper-Level Students: Advice for Instructors

Advice for Instructors

Gustavus library faculty members have decades of collective teaching experiences between us and have observed first-hand how student information seeking behavior has changed over the years. We often have a front seat view of the patterns, struggles and triumphs students experience as they conduct research. We also have an opportunity to see how students interpret various research assignment prompts. Based on this experience, we've compiled advice for instructors. 

Essentially, we recommend any approach that helps students think critically about information they're gathering, as well as any approach that connects them with the appropriate information sources (and people - like their professors and librarians). Be sure to consult the Assignment Ideas and Assignment Prompts tabs on this guide for specific ways to approach these concepts. We also welcome you to reach out to any of the library faculty members to discuss further.

Overall Advice

Assume students will need some instruction on how to conduct college-level research; also assume that they won't have learned "everything" about the library or doing research in their FTS courses.

Decide how to teach perseverance in conducting research, as students often settle for "good enough" when it comes to finding information, rather than finding the best available information.

Recognize that most students will be unfamiliar with the traditional formats of academic conversations, including peer reviewed journals, edited volumes, monographs, conference papers, etc. (both identifying and locating these sources, as well as understanding how they're published) and will need help locating these kinds of sources.

Discuss your own research processes with students. Model how you would conduct the secondary research you are asking them to do while describing your approach. Or model how you would research a topic that's unfamiliar to you, since this is what we're often asking students to do, too.

Encourage students to reflect on their research approach. Prompt them to evaluate the steps they've taken to date, including whether or not they think they've utilized the best information sources and approaches available, and ask them to identify how they might improve their approaches. You might consider asking them to keep a research log or submit a short paper reflecting on their research process to hand in with the final product.

Remind students that research is iterative, not linear. You might share with them a model of the information seeking process.

Assignment Prompt Advice

Be very specific in assignment prompts about what you want them to do in terms of research. Encourage them to use disciplinary-appropriate databases (and tell them what these are). If you require a certain number of sources, prompt them to search more broadly so that they are finding a wide range of sources before narrowing it down to the best sources.

Avoid saying "no" and employ "No, and..." If you do not want them using Wikipedia, for example, provide alternatives: "Don't use Wikipedia, but do use x, y, and z databases." 

If you do not want students to use Google searches to find sources, we recommend saying "Don't use Google" rather than "Don't use the internet." Students might (understandably) interpret databases as part of the internet. This is an excellent opportunity to say, "Don't use Google but do use x, y, and z databases."

We suggest scaffolded research assignments where students submit progress reports, including responding to prompts about where they've searched, what they've found, and how they're evaluating it. 

Consult the Assignment Ideas and Assignment Prompts tabs on this guide for more ideas.

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