I want to share an interesting research report with you, which I learned about from IB ÜberLibrarian John Royce‘s blog, Honesty, honestly… in a post titled WHYs before the event, posted on 6 November 2017. Royce introduces us to a paper by Allison Hosier (of the University of Albany, SUNY) published in the Communication in Information Literacy (CIL) Vol 9, No 2 (2015),  Teaching information literacy through “un-research” .

In the Abstract, Hosier writes:

Students who write essays on research topics in which no outside sources are cited and where accuracy is treated as negotiable should generally not expect to receive good grades, especially in an information literacy course. However, asking stStudent thinkingudents to do just this was the first step in the “un-research project,” a twist on the familiar annotated bibliography assignment that was intended to guide students away from “satisficing” with their choice of sources and toward a better understanding of scholarship as a conversation. The project was implemented as part of a credit-bearing course in spring 2014 with promising results, including a more thoughtful choice of sources on students’ part. With some fine-tuning, the un-research project can offer an effective alternative to the traditional annotated bibliography assignment and can be adapted for a variety of instructional situations.

And in the Conclusion:

The un-research project led to promising changes in the quality of students’ work with regard to their ability to evaluate sources and think of scholarship as a conversation. Moving away from assignments that compel students to treat the sources they find as items on a checklist, with little or no relationship to the end product, can help them value finding and using sources that meet specific rhetorical needs. The un-research project is a step in this direction.

I urge you to download and read Hosier’s paper, and to think about using some of the learning experiences she describes yourself, with your own students, no matter what subject you teach.

In his blog post, Royce considers Hosier’s project in more detail, and quotes other sections of the paper:  ‘…in their research projects, many students often seemed to treat all information as equal; the quality or credibility of the source was not a factor in deciding whether or not to use information or ideas found…This came across in an annotated bibliography exercise,  where “Essentially meaningless comments such as, “This source is good for my research because it relates to my topic,” and “This is a good source because it comes from the library,” were common. These students seemed to have little appreciation of how the information or ideas affected the student’s own thinking or might be used in furthering arguments or conversation.’

The un-research consisted of asking students to write a short essay, but

  • Not to do any research
  • Not to cite any sources
  • Not to use any quotes
  • Not to worry (much) about accuracy.

Then, they were asked to

  • Choose one source that supports a point made in the original un-research essay. Explain how the source supports the original point.
  • Choose one source that adds a new piece of information to the original essay. Explain how this new piece of information would affect the original work.
  • Choose one source that reveals an inaccuracy in the original essay or that challenges its point of view. Explain how this source would be incorporated  into the essay.
  • Choose a quote from one source that would enhance the essay. Explain how the quote would be used in a revised draft of the essay.

Royce writes, ‘This transformed the exercise. No longer were students just looking for information, they were looking for information with intent, looking for relevant information.  They were beginning to appreciate how to build on what was already known or thought and that they might need to engage in conversation (or argument) in support of their own thoughts.  They appreciated that, without citations, the information and ideas given in their original essays was of little value because the accuracy of the content could not be directly trusted or verified…It is worth noting that there is not a single use of the P-word in the whole paper, no mention of academic honesty.  It is all about academic writing and scholarship, about the purpose of academic writing.  Academic writing is not about showing off what we know. It’s about contributing to the conversation.’

IB students always have an essay or assessment hovering on the horizon, and their writing is expected to be academic. This includes citing sources!  How will they know a ‘good’, ‘appropriate’ source when they meet one, in print or on the internet?

This video from the McMaster Libraries might help:

This handful of pages from the University of California at Santa Cruz Library also gives guidelines.

The IB guide, Effective citing and referencing (2014), gives guidance to ‘members of the International Baccalaureate (IB) community in understanding the IB’s expectations with regards to referencing the ideas, words, or work of other people when producing an original document or piece of work.’

On page 2, ‘Why Cite?’ lists reasons for citation:

‘Proper citation is a key element in academic scholarship and intellectual exchange. When we cite we:

  • show respect for the work of others
  • help a reader to distinguish our work from the work of others who have contributed to our work
  • give the reader the opportunity to check the validity of our use of other people’s work
  • give the reader the opportunity to follow up our references, out of interest
  • show and receive proper credit for our research process
  • demonstrate that we are able to use reliable sources and critically assess them to support our work
  • establish the credibility and authority of our knowledge and ideas
  • demonstrate that we are able to draw our own conclusions
  • share the blame (if we get it wrong).’

Let’s add another built point with Royce’s and Hosier’s understanding about academic writing: ‘When we cite, we  contribute to the academic conversation.’

Image Credit

‘School’ — Source: CollegeDegrees360 ©, avaliable under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Flickr