Interview and inquiry: Rethinking writing and research

Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

For years, higher education has been reevaluating how to look at the student research process. At first, sites like Wikipedia and Google were the bane of any professor’s existence. Then came the onslaught of blog after blog of commercial content and agenda-driven articles.

Instructors decided to dig deeper into the article evaluation process by using the infamous CRAAP test to minimize exactly just that from the student work. And throughout this struggle, instructors were relying on the dynamic detection of plagiarism programs to pick up paper-mill essays or Ctrl C + Ctrl V papers. Now AI has come to the forefront of our anxiety. It’s not about whether someone else wrote a student’s paper, but whether anyone actually wrote it.

This article is part of a biweekly series provided by the Instructional Technology Council, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

So we go back to the question: How do we reevaluate the research process for community college students? One of the main responses to combatting the overwhelming amount of content on the internet was to teach students more specific research skills. Instructors could use a scaffolding approach and slowly take the training wheels off throughout the semester. Simply banning the use of certain websites is also still popular. The biggest rebuttal to ChatGPT and AI is to change the way we teach.

Empower student inquiry

Here’s an idea: Have students create their own research. Design research activities that require students to interview or develop surveys. This will create unique content that is not found in paper mills or AI. It will teach them how to develop better questions and conversations along with encouraging them to think about how to use that data. Many students view research as connecting the dots, here is the topic and here is a quote about this topic — they must go together. Having students create their own data will reinforce the process of inquiry and provide a student-centered approach to research.

Essential questions and conversation

While discussion boards are one of the pillars of online course activity, most students struggle to hold engaging text-based conversations. Take a step back and create activities that are built on conversation, so they understand discussions are more intentional and not just responsive. Using interviews will also give them practice at creating questions and knowing when to use open or closed-ended questions. Students can record conversations on web conferencing tools like Zoom which provide transcripts that students can edit and mold into individualized content and data. Whether it’s human resources or sales and marketing, we regularly collect and analyze data in various industries. This approach also provides more workplace readiness skills than scouring Google Scholar.

Surveys and stats

Through social media platforms and various apps, students can collect data and evaluate data sets. These apps will also break down statistics, which provide more insight into the actual survey than a quick quote in an article. This practice will also help enforce essential question skills. While the students may not have access to a huge audience, working with questions and data is at the core of this practice so they are getting the experience needed to collect information and figure out how to use it to their research project’s benefit. There may be some bias in their pool of participants, but we are already combatting bias in digital media. In fact, the student will have a better idea of where this data is coming from as opposed to the latest political blog.

This strategy empowers students to develop data that is unique to your course assignments. It highlights the process of inquiry and research in a hands-on approach that develops professional-level evaluation skills. In previous years, instructors probably wouldn’t consider Uncle Adam’s insight on the “election process” or Aunt Britt’s thoughts on “body image in the media” reliable sources. But when the internet provides anyone or anything with the opportunity to discuss and post their ideas online, Uncle Adam’s and Aunt Britt’s insight may not be so bad.

About the Author

Brooke Litten
Dr. Brooke Litten is an instructional designer for Rowan College of South Jersey and the Northeast regional representative for the Instructional Technology Council. Along with working as an instructional designer, Litten teaches critical thinking online with Mercy College and first-year writing courses at various New Jersey community colleges.
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