Usually THE big research paper comes at the end of the semester. In my composition course, that last research paper is also a “global” project, which means students have to choose an issue concerning another country (or countries).
Typically, the students have about 4 weeks to work on the project, and it includes research skills lessons, information literacy lessons, drafting, an annotated bibliography, and final draft (and sometimes a presentation in class). What I realized after hearing Nancy Sommers speak at a local conference in Maryland was how unrealistic this assignment is! How can we expect students to become “experts” on foreign issues that (most likely) they have never heard about or thought about by doing “scholarly” research, summarizing the various opinions, and forming their own opinions (arguments) all in a month’s time? Not to mention – in doing all this, they have to demonstrate also all the writing skills they’ve practiced through the semester. Good grammar, organization, rhetorical strategies and so on. No wonder they’re usually pretty bad…
All these years, I never doubted the way we teach the research paper. Why not? Probably because that’s how I was taught how to write research papers.
So, here’s one way I’m trying to remedy this: Students will do a weekly assignment which asks them to browse the news on the web (using recommended reputable news sites) and choose one article that catches their attention. They contribute to our class wiki page in Canvas (learning management system) with their citation, summary, and opinion. Each week, then, we are creating our own class “newspaper” with important international news.
My hope is that my students will become more engaged in foreign issues and by the time THE research paper rolls around, they have some topics in mind. At the least, they will be browsing the news at least once a week and becoming a bit more cosmopolitan. We shall see.