University of Calgary

What to do during a Wikipedia blackout

UToday HomeFebruary 1, 2012

First year students can’t read research articles! Or can they?

Many university-level instructors identify learning about the process of science as an important goal in an undergraduate education. However, primary research literature is often neglected or ignored completely in lower-level undergraduate classes. Instructors are subsequently surprised in upper-level classes when students are frustrated or unsuccessful when expected to use research literature with expert ability to learn cutting-edge concepts, or to synthesize a body of research in a written term paper or presentation.

New research in teaching and learning are beginning to show that first-year students are capable of understanding primary literature when given the proper scaffolding, and that learning to read primary literature in lower-level courses provides benefits throughout a student’s undergraduate career.

This fall in a large first-year geoscience class, Principles of Geology and Geophysics I (GLGY 201), three assignments were developed to introduce students to scientific research in the published literature and to connect current research to the course learning objectives. The assignments, developed by Ben Cowie, one of the instructors for the course and Vanier Scholar, were implemented focused on three recently published primary research articles that studied aspects of geoscience that were closely related to course content.

The assignments were completed in class, with students working in small groups. Prior to the class, students read the articles individually with the assistance of a podcast that helped direct their reading. The podcast identified the purpose of each section of the research article, and highlighted important content and ideas.

A talk on Feb. 3 will discuss the development and implementation of these in-class research assignments, and lessons learned from the initial pilot-scale effort will be shared with recommendations for future implementation.