This is related to my earlier posting on How a Class Session Differs from a Chapter in the Text.
I’ve decided I’m going to ask students to write a research journal in my Research Methodology class this Fall. The research journal will be in the form of a blog, where I will ask students to post at least once a week, commenting on what they’ve done in their research project, what questions they might have, what difficulties they’ve run across, what they’ve learned, etc. My ITS (=Instructional Technology Specialist) Jerry has set up a composite blog for my students so that everyone should see what everyone else posts. The idea for a blog like this isn’t original. It is similar to Gardner’s use of student blogs in his Milton seminar last Spring.
I have several reasons for making this assignment.
1. Research is unlike most other assignments undergraduates face. The principal difference is that research has no clear answer; indeed, some research questions may not have any answer. This makes research tough for undergraduates. For this reason, I’ve looked for ways to develop community or team spirit in the students.
Every time I teach this course, about 2/3 of the way through the term a third to a half of my students come to me with the same issue: They have worked and worked and worked on some problem and have made no progress. What’s wrong with them, they want to know?
The answer is nothing is wrong with them, rather that’s the nature of an ill-structured problem, which is what genuine research is. Anyway, I’m hoping that the research blog will help make this a communal experience, and that when students see that others are having the same problem it will help; in any case, I should be able to comment on one student’s blog instead of speaking separately to a number of students.
2. I’m hoping that by reading the blog postings I will get a better sense of how students are progressing in their research.
3. The blog should also provide incentives for students to make a substantive start to their research earlier in the term, since if they haven’t done any work, it should be fairly apparent in their postings.
4. Finally, I’m hoping this process will teach them some metacognitive habits, which I think will prove useful.