Research begins with curiosity

Image by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

When I give students a research project, the first thing I ask them to do is propose a set of three topics. For my freshman seminar students, the three topics should be related to a question they still have about college life. For my information literacy students, the focus is on their role as information creators. The reason I ask for three is partly to increase the chances that one of their ideas will be researchable. The second is to try to force some creativity. Coming up with one idea might be easy. Coming up with three? That takes a little more thinking.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work. About 80-90% of the topics students propose are standard academic research topics, ones that they probably think will get them a good grade rather than things they are actually interested in pursuing. Not exactly on the level of topics that get banned because professors are tired of reading about them, but in that same vein.

A course instructor I once worked with had the same issue. She wanted her students to write about topics that interested them or that were fun for them. I tried to model this in the session I taught for her students by using an example research topic related to Doctor Who. But most of them were writing about things like the legalization of marijuana, video game violence, and whether college athletes should get paid. In other words, the kind of essay topics that typically show up on state tests.

Now, it could be that the students had some genuine interest in these topics but it was also obvious that these topics were not fun for them. This despite the fact that their professor and I both encouraged them to pick fun ideas.

Why the disconnect?

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Myths about research

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

Early on in the information literacy course I teach each semester, I introduce students to a couple of common myths about research, things students commonly believe because of their experience with academic research. This includes things like “research is about finding the right answer” and “citation sucks” (which I tell them isn’t really a myth because, well, citation does suck).

Now that I’m spending some time thinking about the role of research in creative writing, I’m finding that there’s a whole other set of myths/beliefs that keep cropping up, ones that I hadn’t thought about or that don’t apply to the type of research I usually teach.

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The Contextual Nature of “Un-Research”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

At this point, I’ve written a few things about the contextual nature of research and offered some thoughts on how to bring that idea into information literacy classrooms. I’ve also mentioned that my opportunities for changing my own teaching in the way I’m advocating for are somewhat limited at the moment.

Then I realized that some of these ideas actually have connections to something I tried in the past and wrote about in an article that was published in Communications in Information Literacy called “Teaching Information Literacy Through ‘Un-Research.’”

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Selected Resources: Understanding Millennial Learning

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

You may not be aware of this, but every year the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee puts out two lists of Selected Resources, one focused on teaching methods and instructional design and the other focused on assessment. These lists feature articles and other materials that have been published the previous year that are worthy of note. It’s a resource that doesn’t get as much use or attention as it should, so I’ve decided to assign myself the homework of making my way through each item on the most recent lists and write about them here.

First up: “Understanding Millennial Learning in Academic Libraries” by Stan Trembach and Liya Deng (

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Using the annotated bibliography as the “establishing shot”

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Lately I’ve been reading some scholarly literature from the writing studies field for a project I’m working on. I’m always fascinated by the parallels I see between how writing studies practitioners/scholars and information literacy practitioners/scholars talk about what they do and the challenges they face. I really think we need a space for practitioners and scholars in these two fields to talk to each other about their work.

Anyway, I found what I think could be an interesting new parallel in the article Documenting and Discovering Learning: Reimagining the Work of the Literacy Narrative by Julie Lindquist and Bump Halbritter.

This article has me thinking: what if the research we ask students to do in information literacy classes came at the beginning of the course instead of at the end? What if we used it as an “establishing shot”?

Let me explain.

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I created a Skillshare course and I feel weird about it

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

So in May, I completed the Skillshare Teach Challenge, which is where you spend a month creating a course for the Skillshare platform. I first discovered Skillshare after searching for a viable side gig to replace one I’ve been doing for a long time that I knew needed to come to an end. The materials on Skillshare make a big deal about how their top teachers make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through their platform, which I took with a large grain of salt and actually if you dig deeper, you find out that productive teachers on Skillshare who release about one course a month make around $300 a month, which still seemed overly optimistic for my case. Anyway, I had an idea for a possible course and I wanted to try it out.

The course I created for the challenge is called Working with Scholarly Articles. Here’s the referral link, if you’re interested:

And here’s how creating it went.

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