Let me start with this – I hate teaching research papers. Why? Because despite the best efforts of teachers to shepherd students through the process of writing research papers, there is inevitably trainwrecks involving plagiarism and unfinished writing. Let me also say that I can see the value of research projects; I can see the development of skills such as determinations of media quality, categorization and prioritization of data, perfecting essay core structure and content ideas, working through the writing process, and even development of citation skills. But the cost is quite high.
So when I approached this most recent research project, I approached it with my sights set squarely on technology. Perhaps, my thinking goes, students will do better with technology to aid them. And I must say that I hit a gold mine of technological online gems:
- Evernote – This site permits students to save information online and locally. It is a junk drawer for all of the information that can be found while searching for sources. It permits categorization too. Its a clear winner for students.
- Easybib – This site allows students to complete basic information about their media source, and then it creates the MLA citation for them.
- Twitter – This was one of the sites that I wondered about, but it turned into a great source for students. They used it to share resources, communicate on and off topic (which was OK with me), and are beginning to see the value of Twitter thanks to its use by them as they researched.
- Etherpad – This was the clear winner when it worked. It is still in beta testing, but man oh man, when it works, it is powerful. It is particularly helpful for editing thesis statements. In what may be the best 15 minutes of teaching I have ever done, me and two of my students edited one of the student’s thesis statements. It went through many changes, initiated by all three of us, during the process. The changes were posted immediately, and I could see their thinking, and I suspect they could see mine too. The thesis went from mediocre at best to outstanding, showing cause and effect, and change over time depending on the organizational category in question.
- Mindmeister – I’m not so sure about this one. We didn’t try Mindomo or Inspiration. I stuck with this online app because of the collaboration possibilities, and it did seem to work. I like the idea too of using the mind map to set up organizational categories and then moving facts around to categorize and prioritize. And yet when it came to the writing process, students didn’t use it. I’m not sure why. Maybe I needed to emphasize that more than I did.
With these applications, clearly this was a more civilized attempt at research papers than attempts I have made in the past. Still, its a race to the finish for students, and some of them still may not make it.
Any thoughts on research papers? Are they a good idea for teaching? Any thoughts on the tools that I used? What technological tools do you use?