Assignment Idea: picking a topic--more difficult than it sounds

| No Comments

Selecting a topic...
This used to be one of the steps in the research process that I would breeze over--mention that students should select a topic they are interested in and then go right into keywords and finding sources. A couple of weeks ago I co-lead a session on research and writing and I have now been rethinking this attitude.

I realize there are many challenges in picking a topic--especially for first year students or those new to a discipline:
--might not know enough background information
--might not know how to identify or narrow a topic by different facets of a topic
--don't want to spend time researching a dumb topic (but don't know it might be dumb until they do searching)
--don't know any good journals or authors on the topic
--topic selection is very personal and reflects on them (FY students often want to make "safe" choices) to the other students in the class

If I was asked to do a paper on an engineering topic or on greek history (two things I don't know much about) it would be very difficult. Certainly harder when you add in procrastination.

One idea is to create research communitites. Group students based on their initial topic or even assign broad topic areas (e.g. higher education, sports, history, local issues, gender issues, etc.). Ask this group to collaborate on their preliminary research--maybe create a group concept map [learn more] on the broad topic. Ask them to help narrow their topics and connect those in the concept map.

Later on this research community can share how they are doing research and where are they successful finding sources.

This ideas recreates the same research communities that most faculty and instructors are involved in. Your peers and other sholars form both a formal and informal community--we take this for granted.

Are you involved with a research community? What do you gain from it? How can you recreate such things in your class?

Leave a comment