How to Help Facilitate the Student Academic Research Process

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss how media specialists facilitate the academic research process by helping students formulate a research question and sift through the available research to answer that question.

Why Teach Research?

We're currently living in the height of the information age. We walk around everyday mostly oblivious to the fact that the great compendium of human knowledge and discovery is literally in the palm of our hands in our iPhones or Androids. We have dozens of 24-hour news networks bombarding us with breaking stories in the name of ratings. With such instant access to everything, consumers of media information must have a discerning eye.

It can be difficult to find reliable fact-checkers in the age of the internet, considering the speed at which information is spread between thousands--if not millions--of people. That's why it's so important these days to make sure younger generations are able to seek out legitimate research and be able to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate research. Let's take a look at some of the ways a media specialist can facilitate students' academic research processes.

A discerning student will make use of a library when looking for legitimate sources
Library aisle

Formulating Research Questions

Students must first learn to formulate a research question. At this level, students should already be familiar with the scientific method and have a broad understanding of hypothesis, correlation and causation, dependent and independent variables, etc. Explain to students that a good research question could be answered by the hypothesis, or educated guess about the topic the student is researching. For example, a student may hypothesize that there's some correlation between education level and annual income. An example research question could be 'what is the relationship between one's annual income and their highest education level?' This is just a starting point that may need adjustment.

Effective research questions can be held to the S.M.A.R.T standard. This popular acronym helps create questions that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In the above example, highest education level and annual income are fairly Specific. They are Measurable variables, income uses dollar ranges and education uses degree levels. It's Achievable because there's publicly available database resources with the information. The question should be Relevant to the information they hope to find, so there's no use looking in income and employment data from the 1950's. Students may have a limited amount of Time to accomplish a research project, so narrow the scope and focus as needed.

Conducting Efficient Searches

Unlike in the days of print media, requiring an understanding of the card catalog and the Dewey Decimal system, research today is primarily done by keyword search. Students benefit from learning how to efficiently search for what they need using the standard computer language of the Boolean search. Learn to navigate searches with the terms 'and', 'or', 'not' to narrow or broaden what the search captures. This is especially helpful in research databases like ERIC, psycINFO and even Google Scholar.

The Education Resources Information Center--or ERIC--logo
ERIC database logo

Using a Boolean search on one of these database programs can help students adjust and tweak their keyword search for the most efficient and relevant results. For example, a quick Google search of the research question 'what is the relationship between one's annual income and their highest education level' yields nearly a billion results. A Boolean search could eliminate the pages about how poor students perform academically, because that isn't really the question.

Some databases include the ability to restrict search parameters to only include valid research sources like peer-reviewed journal articles. Learn the features of each particular database search engine in order to help students adjust their search strategies using the features available to them.

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