Try team survey to teach research skills in the humanities
Teaching research as a team activity is probably an old hat for those of you in STEM, but in the humanities, many of us still cling to the lonely research process of working hard. in a dark corner of a library. For my part, I was fed up – I often saw students feeling overwhelmed and disengaged by a complex research process, and had to answer the same research questions for every student.
This semester, while teaching a 200-level English tutorial writing seminar, and with some help from my advisor, I took a different approach: instead of preparing students for conventional research work, I structured my class around a collaborative research process. I was considering incorporating more reverse elements into my teaching and wanted the learning activities in my classroom to better reflect the results of my lessons. In particular, I wanted the students to discover how our field generates knowledge by doing it themselves. teams according to their research interests. Now I’m the first to admit that this approach was far from perfect, but the feedback I received from my students was positive and I would definitely teach this way again. As you head into summer and start revising curricula for next fall, I hope these takeaways can help you think about ways collaborative projects can make your classes more engaging and fun. to teach.
1. Getting your hands dirty (and yours): As a kid of the 90s, I readily adhere to Ms. Frizzle’s method of inquiry (v. My class was on tutorial writing methods and theories, but I wanted my students to come away with a idea of how researchers in this area are actually doing research in order to create a theory (see R. Mark Hall). I started by organizing assigned readings that would help students identify conversations in the field. Additionally, I have voluntarily assigned readings to journals that publish undergraduate work so that students can identify places where they could participate (and potentially publish). The other major change was to directly involve students in conduct primary research. Rather than asking students to formulate arguments based on secondary sources, I wanted them to try to collect first-hand information. Your field probably has its own way of approaching this, but for my students that meant doing some sort of observational, interview, or survey research. As I will come back to a little later, the students did not go through this process alone, but rather had the chance to practice and reflect with the support of their groups.
2. Design your course backwards: If I wanted this research process to be successful, I knew that my main work had to support the results of my classes, so I decided to plan in reverse. Ultimately, I knew I wanted students to combine their primary research with personal reflection in order to enter into an existing scholarly conversation. I planned the class activities around the incremental steps of the research process, and in particular the genres of writing that would provide some structure for each step. Before forming their research groups, I asked some students to write weekly reflections on our course blog. Then I asked the students to form groups based on their intersecting interests and collaborate on a literature review to better understand the main ideas or questions pursued in their field. In groups, students then developed research questions and collected primary data. Then they wrote a experimental report, a summary of the questions motivating their research, the rationale for the methods they used to gather information, and a discussion of the implications of what they observed. Finally, the students put all these parts together in a synthesis, to provide insight or relevant argument to an audience in our field. I felt this scaffolding was really useful because it did two things: First, it broke down the entire research process into separate parts, which meant students wouldn’t have to tackle the whole process at once; second, the process necessarily took several weeks, giving students time to test ideas, troubleshoot, and most importantly, revise.
3. Support groups consistently: Even though no one in the class was an expert researcher (myself included), I knew that by working together, students could piece together what they knew and then solve problems together. For example, one student said that the group process “helped [him] feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed by the task of collecting research. However, I also knew that they couldn’t do this without support, so I made sure to set aside time in class for the groups to come together. In addition, I planned activities that would help practice the skills they would use later. Before the big missions, we practice research skills in small groups– we deconstructed an example essay before writing a literature review, and we practiced interview and observation techniques through classroom activities such as peer review. me too structured homework so that each member of the group has something to contribute: for the informed review, group members were tasked with summarizing a specific number of secondary sources, then the whole group had to organize these summaries into a cohesive review; for the experimental report, group members had to share their data so that groups did not need to duplicate work. When the time came to give my opinion on the group papers, I organized a conference with each group. It ended up being a cost-effective way to share verbal and written feedback with the students, as well as a chance to support the group as they planned the next step in their research.
If I had to do it again, I’m convinced I would stick to the group finder process.at least because my students found it incredibly useful and it was a lot of fun for me to teach! In the comments, one student said that “being able to collaborate with one’s peers has not only helped [him] to feel more relaxed, it helped the project to grow enormously. He went on to say that he appreciated the way each member of the group brought their own approach, and “letting all of these perspectives into the conversation prevented [their] plan to become too narrow. As I mentioned earlier, the process did not go perfectly and due to a number of factors I had to tweak things over the course of the semester. In the future, I would try to stretch the research process even more (it ended up taking the last six weeks of my class). This does not mean that the research process had to cover the whole class, but by distributing the research tasks more evenly, the students would have time to reflect and relate the research skills to the other texts that we read (by approaching texts as the researchers made them think about “how it’s done”). Second, I think the groups would have benefited from a peer review, especially after writing a collaborative article. Any type of group project presents challenges as people try to align their working styles, and creating space for comments is a good way to help students think about how they communicate and support their peers.
What approaches do you use to involve your students in the research process? Do you have any tips to help groups succeed? Tell us in the comments!
[Photo by Flickr user Paul Albertella and used under Creative Commons License]