walk-through mini research project?


In his very useful book Engaging Ideas John Bean suggests that an effective method for introducing majors to research writing within a given discipline is to develop a "walk-through" research project that can be completed as a class over a few periods or a few weeks.  As he proposes it,

"The teacher develops a scenario for a fictional researcher who poses a research question. The teacher then distributes a packet of primary and secondary materials out of which the mini-research paper will be developed. With all the class using the same documents, the teacher gives short assignments in summarizing, quoting, paraphrasing, and citing material for a variety of contexts and purposes."
(Full excerpt from the book is reproduced here: http://wac.colostate.edu/teaching/fullitem.cfm?itemID=20 )

I find this idea intriguing, as most of the students in our intro methods course are simply so clueless about how to do sophisticated research that the traditional semester-long research project simply overwhelms them. However, I am slamming my head against a wall trying to actually design this assignment, and so I'm falling back on a reliable strategy: looking for models.  Have any forumites used this kind of assignment, or anyone know of actual concrete models that would help me conceptualize this thing into existence?  I'm in history, but I think anything coming out of a humanities/social science field would be adaptable.

Help me forumites, you're my only hope....

I have that Bean book and I . . . really must read it!

Here's what I do with my first-year Comp students to help them get their feet wet with a mini-research paper.

* we brainstorm possible topics together related to the course theme

* they do "exploratory research" individually to see what the landscape of that topic looks like; they are allowed to use Google at this stage, in addition to library databases; this helps them to get a sense of how to narrow down the topic, what search phrases might work well

* they then do a formal search on the topic, this time restricted to library databases; they must find 35 articles (mix of magazine, newspaper, peer-reviewed)

* we discuss their research findings as a class, and the best research gets approved by me as a topic

* they then conduct research as a group -- this is the one crucial element missing from Bean's model in my view: finding good sources is a big challenge for many of them; they research in groups so that they learn strategies from one another

* each research group sets up a Google doc to record their research process, and so I can see who is contributing and who is not

* after a week of researching, they finalize 57 articles as a group -- that concludes the group work

* they then read all the articles carefully and each student composes his/her own research paper

All of that takes about 3 weeks -- don't know if that will be helpful or not.  At that point in the semester we have already done quite a bit of work on the other skills needed to compose the rough draft -- incorporating sources, developing subtopics, developing thesis, etc.

tuxedo_cat, that was very helpful, and I'm encouraged to hear that it only takes 3 weeks or so (like your class, mine will practice most of the skills beforehand).  I like the idea of researching as a group!  How large are your classes?

Oh, yay : )  Glad to know some of that sounds potentially useful.

I usually have between 1520 students, and research groups work best with 3 or 4 students.  If I have lots of students who want to work on a single topic, I just make two groups.  The GoogleDoc technique is a pretty recent addition to the process, and it's so helpful for a bunch of reasons (lots of them probably self-evident):

* accountability: students type their contributions in a specific colored font; I can see immediately if one group member is letting everyone else do the work, and *they* know that that will affect their grade

* asynchronous work: they can make contributions to the group work without having to be in the same place / same time, so that speeds up the whole collaborative research process

* weaker students definitely learn some good skills from the more advanced students

* they post summaries of sources, work on documentation styles on that page, list possible sources and comment on them -- I also occasionally drop in to provide some feedback

It's such a simple tool, but useful in so many ways.

Also, the topics they research are more in the social sciences and natural sciences, but I've used this tool in my lit classes also, and it works well there too (mostly for presentations).

I have done versions of these mini-projects as problem-solving reports. In business, students write about specific companies and their problems or ways specific companies can help solve bigger problems.

Though I typically call these just question and tips days. I let students work and dedicate one day for each tip type: research, writing, or citing. This works for my upper-level classes.


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