Research Strategies for Senior Students


Our school has a subscription to a  website called the Study Skills Handbook which offers study tips to senior students. I’m sure it’s a valuable resource; so valuable in fact that it’s behind a $1200/year paywall that requires a login password in order to access it. What a bargain. I’m sure those tips wouldn’t be found anywhere else on  the Internet for free at all.

Anyway, I got an email from someone at school today promoting this resource, and amongst the several study tips it suggested, it listed this one…

You could also ask your local librarian for any additional direction on where to look for resource material for your assignment. Librarians are often your best source of information. They know how to help people access relevant and appropriate information, in books, the Internet or computer based references. One of the challenging aspects of Internet based searches for school students is the complexity, language and purpose of websites, not to mention bias and reliability.

It’s true that the Internet can be a wild and woolly place to find information, with the potential for complexity, bias and reliability concerns. However, it is also the environment that most resembles real life, where complexity, bias and reliability concerns are just part of the way the world actually works. While it would be nice to think that the real world could be packaged up into nice neat little packages, decoding the messiness of real life and sorting through all that stuff is one of the real skills our students need.

That said, here are a few suggestions that students can do when they are given a research task on any topic . Of course, the suitability of each of these suggestions will depend on the topic being researched.

1. Start with the Wikipedia article. For whatever potential concerns that people might have about the public edit-ability of Wikipedia, the fact is that for the VAST majority of topics it will be the most current, most accurate and most well researched summary of the topic. Start there.

2. Having read the Wikipedia article on the topic, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and look at the citations list. One of the requirements of Wikipedia articles is that they include a citation for every statement made, and any uncited statements are challenged and eventually removed. So for many topics, looking at the citation list (and links) will provide a treasure trove of further research ideas.

3. Go to Google Scholar at and search for your topic there. These articles are all reviewed academic papers and usually provide excellent reading on most topics. Not only that, but each article in Scholar shows a link to the downstream papers that cited them, which again provides further reading. If an article has dozens, or hundreds of papers citing it as a source, then you can assume that other researchers have found them valuable. Your students probably will too.

4. Set up a bookmarking system that allows you to keep a collection of relevant links in one place. I HIGHLY recommend Diigo, not just because it is by far the best online bookmarking service around, but it also allows group collaboration on shared bookmarks and online markup of webpages. Using Diigo, a student can make comments and leave sticky notes directly ON a webpage, share those annotations with their partners, keep an organised list of relevant research articles and much more. Diigo is probably the number one tool that students should be using with web research, yet I wonder how many of them actually even know about it?

5: While in Diigo, do a search for the obvious tags related to your topic that are being used by others. This will reveal another rich resource of ideas on a topic by connecting with links and sources that other people have already found useful. It’s often a much better way to narrow in on relevant study resources than a regular Internet search because it has already been through a kind of social approval process. As more people tag a resource it gains social credibility and value, making it more likely to be the kind of resource that others will find valuable.

6. Set up some kind of tool that allows them to curate content. I recommend Flipboard, but there are many others like Zite, ScoopIt or even Pinterest. By curating relevant content into one place it builds a go-to resource for more reading on a topic. Curation like this should be a key digital information strategy.

7. Then there is the use of Internet search in general, such as Google or Bing. But too often students take a very limited approach to search because they simply don’t know any better. As well as using a rich array of search strategies and search operators (there is way more to it than just typing a couple of words into Google!) there is also Book SearchMap searchImage search, etc, each with their own nuances and advantages. While these various search tools and techniques won’t be applicable to every topic and subject, many will. Our students need to be taught about them so they know when is appropriate to use them.

8. Finally, particularly if you;re researching something that is fairly current or topical, go to Google Alerts and set up an alert for anytime that topic is mentioned online. You can be as specific or general as you like in your search terms, but whenever a new result matches that query it can send you an email to let you know about it.

So there are a few ideas for helping your students deal with those “Other Resources” that might be out there on the big scary Internet. There’s a LOT more that could be included in there, but this is a start. Maybe some of these ideas and tools are new to you, so you might like to take a look at them yourself in order to be best able to assist your students navigate this information rich, and often overwhelming, world of information they live in.

And none of that information I just shared was behind a paywall. You’re welcome.

Creative Commons Image:

My Edublog Award Nominations 2011

2011 has been an interesting year for blogging.

I feel like my own personal blogging has been really suffering lately, not just from being really busy at work, but also from the endless distractions of Twitter and Google+ which, if I let them, could easily become my sole places for sharing stuff online.  Certainly, there are some people, like Mike Elgan, who use Google as their sole online presence and funnel all their other online stuff into G+.  It’s a potentially intriguing strategy, as the engagement factor on G+ is certainly very high.  You could also argue that Twitter has replaced a great deal of sharing that was one done via blogs, and there’s little doubt that between the “Big Three” of Facebook, Twitter and Google+, the nature of blogs and blogging  has shifted considerably since I first started using them back in 2005.  I’m blogging less, for sure, and it definitely leaves a void that I miss filling.

However, this was also the year when I introduced a whole bunch of new bloggers to the wonders of blogging.  At my school, I encouraged the teachers of Reception, Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 to give class blogs a try.  It’s been resoundingly successful, with the Reception and Year 2 classes in particular really running with it.

Then, our Year 6 teachers, librarian and kids took part in a well-structured blogging project  as part of an AIS-funded AGQTP Action Research project. The Year 6 teachers got time away from classes to learn about the culture and skills of blogging, and then they shared it with their students, who each got a blog and used it quite extensively during the latter part of the year.

Our junior school librarian also jumped on the blogging bandwagon too, and created both a Junior School Library blog which she regularly updates with library news and information, as well as a Book Review blog that is growing in popularity.

All in all, it’s been a busy year of blogging for many people I work with!

My Nominations

I would love to recognise some of these school-based blogging efforts that have emerged this year by nominating some of them for an Edublogs Award.  Bear in mind that these are all brand new bloggers, people that have never done it before and were willing to get in and give it a go. I really admire their willingness to try something new and learn some new skills.  I’d love to see their efforts rewarded with some recognition, and of course some additional traffic.  I think they really deserve it.

So, my nominations are…

Best Class Blog: From Little Things Big Things Grow: The PLC Reception Class Blog, by Sophie McKendry and Jaclyn Casella – In their simplest form, blogs make brilliant journals, and this Posterous blog has been a fabulous journal of the year’s activities for this class of 4 and 5 year olds.   With 39 posts over the course of the year, they have added photos, audio recordings and writing  to document the many important classroom events from 2011. The reaction from parents has been overwhelmingly positive.

Best Class Blog: The PLC Year 2 Blog by Catherine O’Doherty, Lisa Case and Katrina Avery – This blog has been used to connect, collaborate and communicate with our parent body and the world, and has generated an enormously enthusiastic response from the teachers, parents and students alike. It contains student work samples, photos, audio recordings, scans, and writing. It also documents the adventures of Cocoa, the class mascot. The blog has had 147 posts during the year and over 11,000 views. It’s an amazing first attempt at blogging and deserves some recognition.

Best Library Blog: Library Matters by Sandra McMullan – I think this brilliant new library blog deserves lots of recognition. It was started by our junior school librarian, Sandra McMullan, as a way to showcase the many great things that happen there. It contains posts, photos, stories and booklists, all designed to encourage greater dialog and exposure to what goes on in the library. It’s a stellar first effort at blogging, and really think it deserves some recognition. In addition, Sandra started a second blog for book reviews which links of the front page of her main blog.

After a fairly full-on year of introducing blogging here at PLC Sydney, there are lots more blogs floating around (including a blog for every student in Year 6).  While they are all interesting, I think the ones listed above have been the real standouts, and deserve to be nominated for a 2011 Eddie.

Now please go vote for them!

What Libraries Need

Ah serendipity, how I love it.

We have a major building project going on at school right now.  The bulldozers are busily demolishing walls from our old library, and and we will soon have a beautiful new library Information and Research Center.  From the plans I’ve seen, it should be a great space.

I was asked today to come to a meeting next month and give a short talk to a group of parents and supporters of the new school library building project.  Many of these folks are still getting their head around the massive shifts in the way information is managed.  Many of them perhaps don’t realise that the term “library” no longer means what it once meant.  Information is different in a digital age, and so libraries need to manage information differently.  My talk to them needs to cover (briefly) an overview of how information and libraries and “books” are different to what they used to be.

So I thought it extremely serendipitous when I opened my email this afternoon to find this little video.  I’m sure I’ll be able to find one minute and twenty seconds to share this video with the group.  Should be a good place to start the conversation.

I have no idea how they managed to get this little girl to say all those complicated phrases! Thanks to VALA for making the clip, and to Tony Brandenberg for passing this along via OzTeachers.