Top Research and Planning Strategies: What Should You and Your Students Be Doing in 2019?
Not so long ago, accessing information required legwork. Real legwork in the form of actually walking to the library and searching through the innumerable books organised using an archaic system called the Dewey Decimal System.
Things are much less complicated these days. In this wired age, accessing information is as simple as pressing a few buttons on a laptop, or swiping your finger across a cell phone screen.
While this 24/7 online access to information represents amazing progress, we still need to ensure we develop the necessary research strategies that allow us to access the right information, evaluate it for accuracy, and then to plan for its use in our own work accordingly.
In this article we will take a look at some solid research and planning strategies (some evergreen old school and some shiny new!)) to help teachers and students alike to make the most of the information out there on the web and to effectively plan for its use in subsequent work.
Online Research Strategies
1. Use Search Engine Shortcuts
Good research begins with asking good questions. This also applies to employing search engines, such as Google, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo, effectively.
The Internet is an almost inexhaustible collection of information and it is constantly growing. Search engines are a tool that help us filter that information down to the exact piece of knowledge we are seeking. This is achieved through the careful selection of search terms. The specificity of these search terms used is key to successfully navigating the immense ocean of information available on the ’net..
The more refined our search queries are, the more likely the search engine will return relevant information to us, and the less time we will waste in the process.
As Google is by far the most popular search engine out there, here are some quick tips to make sure you and your students are getting the most out of your Google searches (many of these work on other search engines too).
● Use Quotation Marks
Placing your search terms inside quotation marks (“”) ensures Google searches for the whole phrase, not just occurrences of the individual words in the phrase. This minimizes guesswork on the part of Google and ensures only the most relevant pages are returned to you.
● Exclude Words with a Hyphen
English contains a lot of ambiguity. While this is great for the poets out there, this can make researching some terms problematic. For example, if you are searching for the term ‘toast’ meaning speech, you may also get many results related to the breakfast staple. To remove results related to this meaning, simply type ‘toast -breakfast’ into the search bar. This tells Google to only return results including ‘toast’ and to exclude those results also containing the term ‘breakfast’.
● Search a Specific Site
Sometimes we come across a site that is a real treasure trove of information but that information is poorly indexed on the site menus. Luckily, there is a way to search the content on a specific site. To do this, simply type the search terms into the search bar followed by ‘site:’ and then the specific site url. For example, if we wanted to search the Literacy Ideas website for mentions of the term ‘Visual Literacy’ we would enter:
visual literacy site:literacyideas.com
2. Check Your Sources
As the popular Internet meme quoting Abraham Lincoln states “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”
In this era of Fake News we are constantly reminded of the unreliability of much of the information presented as truth on the web. It is essential that we (and our students) have some strategies to assess the accuracy and validity of the information we come across.
A good starting point is to ask yourself the following questions when assessing new information:
● Is this information up-to-date?
● Is this information detailed?
● Is the author identified?
● Is the author qualified in the topic?
● Are sources cited?
● Does the information come from a trusted source?
3. Select Domains Wisely
When searching, consider the importance of domains, such as .com, .org, .gov, and .edu. These are not all created equally. For example, .com and .org domains are classed as ‘open’, meaning anyone can register on them. They are usually used for commercial reasons.
Other domains are classed as ‘closed’, such as .gov and .edu, and registrants must meet certain eligibility requirements to register these. In the case of .edu for example, registration is limited to accredited post-secondary institutions in the United States.
Depending on the purpose of your search, the domain you choose to search may have implications for the reliability and usefulness of the results returned.
To choose which type of domain to search, simply type ‘site’, followed by a colon, and then the domain after your chosen search terms.
For example, if you wish to search for the term ‘American presidents’ on .edu sites, simply type:
American presidents site:edu
A downside of the wide availability of information instantly and for free on the internet is the erosion of intellectual property rights and increase in plagiarism.
To combat this, it is essential that we ensure our students (and we ourselves) avoid plagiarism and respect copyright rights by adequately citing sources used.
When engaged in writing essays, students should be familiar with how to use quotation marks, compile notes, and structure a bibliography. When citing online sources, they should also be familiar with the conventions related to citing URLs.
Just how detailed citations are will depend largely on the age and ability of the students in question.
There are lots of excellent free resources online that help to format citations correctly, many of which can create formatted citations automatically, for example Citation Machine and Citation Builder provide this service.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
If the boy scouts have taught us anything, it is the importance of being prepared. This is as true for us as teachers, as it is for our students. To that end, let’s take a look at some planning strategies to help us all get the most from our teaching and learning based research.
In our rapidly changing world, it is impossible to predict with accuracy the nature of the jobs which our students will undertake in the future.
What does seem sure, however, is that the so-called ‘soft’ skills, which are transferable between jobs, will be much in demand in the working world of tomorrow. Collaboration is one of these important skills.
Collaboration involves working together to achieve a common goal. It promotes high levels of interaction and communication between students and/or colleagues. Collaboration exposes each individual to diverse perspectives and encourages higher level thinking. Incorporating collaboration at the planning stage helps ensure the success of teaching and learning projects.
2. The Round Robin
Brainstorming is a tried and tested means of beginning the planning process. There are many variations on brainstorming techniques. The Round Robin, which we will look at here, lends itself well to our previous strategy of collaboration.
In the Round Robin, the group of teachers or students sit in a circle to discuss the topic at hand.
One-by-one, go around the circle encouraging each person to share one idea until everyone has had a chance to speak. While this is happening, an appointed person can keep a record of each idea shared.
It is crucial that ideas are shared first, without initial discussion or criticism. Evaluation and debate should take place only after each person has had an opportunity to share their ideas.
This is an excellent strategy to ensure each person has had an opportunity to share their ideas. It also avoids any one voice dominating a collaborative planning session.
3. The Mind Map
Mind Maps are simply diagrams that visually represent ideas. They can be done individually or collaboratively using words, or pictures, or both.
With much in common with brainstorming, Mind Maps are an excellent way to begin the planning process as they are a superb means of organizing complex ideas.
Many people use paper and pens to create Mind Maps for their project, however, increasingly people are turning to technology to help in their development. There are now many paid and free options online providing templates and tools to help you develop your own Mind Maps.
4. Use an Online Calendar
Homework deadlines. Exam timetables. College applications. The demands on students and teachers alike are many and varied. It may, at times, seem impossible to keep track of everything.
Using an online calendar, such as those pre-installed on many cell phones, helps ensure you keep track of your to-do list and many will even provide regular remainders as those deadlines loom near.
5. Create Checklists
Not only are checklists a great way to ensure you have fulfilled all the criteria of a given task, they are an effective means of planning out all the points you need to hit to complete a project successfully.
A good checklist should contain all the essential elements for a successful piece of work. When the description of these items is kept generic, rather than detailed and specific, they can serve as templates for a particular genre to be reused each time you, or your students, engage in that type of work.
So, whether engaged in the research stage of a piece of work, or planning a future project, strategies are nothing without implementation.
The more the strategies above are used, the more second nature they will become, leading to increased efficiency and higher quality work for both students and teachers in the year ahead.
Content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and university English lecturer with 15 years teaching and administration experience. Editing and support content has been provided by the literacyideas team.