Conducting focused research is often an insurmountable task when you ask a young student to begin exploring the vast resources available via the internet. A stuent's first unguided attempt to find data to support a topic that they are researching may seem overwhelming. Even with the most focused of thesis statement, most search engines will still expose students to millions of sites that would require endless hours for them to sift through.
In addition to the challenge of the number of sites a typical search may bring up, there is also the challenge of discovering materials relevant and appropriate to their research. Even with vigilant software controls preventing inappropriate content, students are still given access to sites with too much content and many times too high of a reading level. Exacerbating the problem is the challenge of keeping track of all of the sites that they come across in the course of their research.
Finally, the writing process alone is a challenge. Ensuring that a student is producing an organized focused paper and providing constructive feedback to that student as well as encouraging peer to peer feedback is a challenge that any teacher may face.
The focus of this blog is to provide recommendations and guidelines for student research and to introduce some VERY useful new technology tools that may assist students in the research process.
Recommendation #1. Help student develop a focused thesis statement (topic statement) BUT ALSO ensure they develop a list of keywords to help them search.
This is a graphical knowledge engine that allows the user to enter a keyword and the engine will discover keywords (initiated through wikipedia).
Wordsift will evaluate a student’s research topic and/or thesis statement and sift the words based on most utilized words. It then activates a visual thesaurus with related words and a google image search of related images.
An online dictionary and thesaurus
Online dictoonary and thesaurus including visual thesaurus
#2. Note taking is DIFFICULT The first step in research requires a great deal of sifting through websites for the student to find just what they want. They are also easily distracted! A bookmarking site is great to help streamline and focus their search attempts as well as for providing opportunities to record their thoughts and highlight important information.
http://www.diigo.com/ - Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other Stuff
Diigo works as a bookmarking site to save, tag and share websites that they have found useful, but it also allows students to highlight parts of a webpage as well as write and attach stickynotes to the pages. They can also leave comments about the bookmarked page and communicate/collaborate with other students.
This site works like a box to obtain clippings of pieces of information from various websites that may be applicable to the student’s research. Text can be copied and pasted into a box to be saved or shared. Be careful, however, there seems to be no way to cite sources if you clip something from somewhere else!
This is another bookmarking site that requires registration to be use. Similar to diigo, it allows students to save, tag and share websites that they have found.
www.bonzobox.com (with bonzo buddy messaging/sharing)
Yet another bookmarking site, BonzoBox saves websites as real-time images. This site has great appeal for students as it allows sharing and collecting of websites and resources in a fun and interactive way.
http://www.HeyPasteIt. HeyPasteIt provides a great spot for students to place temporary notes and information.
#3. Help students organize their information
This application allows you to visually represent an outline as a map (like visualthesaurus). Allows students to visualize the relationship between sections in their research project and related concepts. Can be saved as a .jpg file
http://www.mindomo.com & http://www.wisemapping.com
This free mindmapping tools require a login but can be used to establish a framework for the topics to be included in a research paper. Can be shared or embedded.
More of a flowchart/diagram type of application, this can perform more advanced relationships between topics or help establish a flowchart to represent a paper.
Free mindmapping software that can be used to establish a framework for the topics to be included in a research paper. Can be shared or embedded. Very user friendly interface. NO ACCOUNT NEEDED.
http://www.dropmind.com & http://www.lovelycharts.com
Great for flowcharts and diagrams. Terrific user interface with dynamic images. An account is necessary but the potential for a dynamic attractive finished product is wonderful.
This is a great outline tool for creating a map to visually represent a paper. What is outstanding about this one is the ability to add images, links and notes to certain sections of the map. This would be a great way to monitor student progress through their research as the map is developed, they can update their progress through certain sections.
#4. Provide opportunities for writing, editing and collaborating
Zoho Writer is a collaborative editor that lets students create and share documents. Very user friendly and supports several file formats as well as 20 different fonts. Free. Login required.
Etherpad is a notepad style space that allows text to be copied into it (no formatting). Each space has a unique url and students can invite up to 8 guests to meet in that space for collaboration. Collaboration is real time and it includes a chat function which is WELL received by students. Each edit is tracked via a specific color.
Write, share, revise, compare. This web-based editor allows students to write online documents and collaborate with peers. Free. Login required.
Google Docs allows students to create text documents and presentations. All of the basic functions of a word processor are included and you can upload files. It is possible to invite people and work on files collaboratively; additionally, you can publish your documents and spreadsheets online with one click, as normal-looking web pages. Free to use. Google account required.
For a comprehensive source of search engines for students, see: http://www.teach-nology.com/mega_search/10_search_engines/