Reconsidering Research Projects

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Case Study

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Let's reconsider the research paper prompt from Unit 1:

  • Write an eight to ten page research paper on alternative therapeutic modalities. Follow APA conventions for formatting and documentation.

Now consider alternative prompts:

  • Write an eight to ten page research paper on therapeutic touch. Follow APA conventions for documentation.
  • You are a staff nurse at a large urban hospital. Recently the hospital became embroiled in a major controversy when several nurses were discovered to be practicing TT on patients without permission or knowledge of their supervisors or of attending physicians. The hospital governing board repremanded the nurses and issued a general statement forbidding the practice of TT, which they called "non-scientific quackery." Research the professional literature on TT, looking especially for evidence-based studies. Then write a four to five page argument addressed to the hospital governing board, supporting or attacking the board's decision to forbid the practice of TT. Support your position with reasons and evidence based on the professional literature.
  • Assume that you and several colleagues seek grant funding to do a controlled research study on the efficacy of TT for reducing anxiety and pain in surgery patients. Research the current professional literature on TT and then write the "review of the literature" section of your grant proposal.

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What assignment(s) is/are most effective and why?

Prompts taken directly from Bean (2011) p. 232


In this unit you will learn about creating authentic and engaging research projects in which students utilize information to solve a problem.


  • Participants will create a research project plan that reflects how research is conducted in a specific discipline and makes the research process visible.

To complete this unit you will

  • Read the course text and a workshop handout
  • Connect what you read to how research is conducted in your discipline
  • Draft a research project plan
  • Reflect on what you learned

Why does it matter?

If we want students to engage in meaningful research we must design our research projects to spark curiosity and help students with conceptual understanding and skills development. When research assignments are divorced from realistic application and focused solely on skills students can become disengaged and trapped within a mechanical framework rather than engaged in critical inquiry. Rather than assuming that students can "figure it out" we can guide them with progressive assignments that fit together to scaffold learning resulting in deeper understanding.


Smooth-star.jpg Before you begin this section look at the Write questions and use those to guide your reading and viewing.  

Disciplinary Epistemology

To make research assignments more meaningful it’s important to make them more authentic. While the research paper focuses on disciplinary content, the authentic research project is situated within disciplinary epistemology. By making this shift you can more effectively move students along the continuum from novice researchers to more advanced researchers.

Badke (2012) outlines 8 elements to help students understand disciplinary epistemology (pp. 14-15):

  1. How did this discipline come into being?
  2. How and why is the discipline organized into major categories and subcategories?
  3. What research methods are used to generate knowledge in this discipline?
  4. What constitutes good evidence in this discipline?
  5. What constitutes good discourse in this discipline?
  6. What are the various types of literature (monographs, journal articles, gray literature, etc.) best accepted in this discipline?
  7. What are the alternate ways in which this discipline has been conceptualized, and who are its radical voices?
  8. What are ways in which newer information forms, as seen in Web 2.0, are influencing the knowledge base of this discipline?

As you consider the research project you are creating in this course - pay particular attention to #s3-6.

Read pages 2-4, 6, and 14 of the handout Working Backwards: How Departmental Faculty can Re-think Curriculum to Accelerate Students' Growth as Disciplinary Writers and Thinkers

Making the Research Process Visible and Scaffolding Learning

Rather than assigning one large research project that's due at the end of the semester it's more effective to assign several smaller projects that build toward the final project. This serves the dual purposes of making the research process visible and scaffolding learning. Here are some concepts that you might want to address:

  • Understanding scholarly communication in your discipline
  • Awareness of disciplinary information sources (utilize Bizup’s BEAM model as explained in this unit’s reading)
  • Development of disciplinary vocabulary and understanding of disciplinary discourse
  • Understanding and application of rhetorical context
  • Developing a guiding research question
  • Synthesizing and integrating information
  • Evaluating sources with a focus on acceptable evidence in your discipline
  • Search strategies for locating disciplinary scholarship

It's important to support these assignments with in-class discussions and activities that take place before and after the assignment due dates so that students can deepen their understanding.


  • Brainstorm examples of how research is conducted in your discipline. Which of these options would translate best into an undergraduate student project (this can be one element of a larger project - such as a literature review)?
  • Create a BEAM diagram and fill in source examples for each category as it relates to the project.
  • Brainstorm smaller assignments that, taken together, would help encourage and support critical inquiry.


For this unit you will be creating a research project plan. Much like a lesson or curriculum plan, a research project plan can begin with your desired outcome and work backward. Here are the suggested elements for your plan:

  • Desired outcome of research project
  • Learning objectives that will lead to desired outcome
  • Activities that map to objectives and demonstrate learning
  • Prompt
  • Scaffolding strategies to help students develop conceptual framework and develop skills
    • class based discussions and activities
    • Smaller assignments that lead to final assignment

As you develop your plan test it out - try locating information sources that students will need to complete the project and adjust as necessary.

Add your plan the discussion board for this unit. Review the work of your colleagues for ideas and offer constructive feedback on at least one other plan.

Smooth-star.jpg Click on the discussion tab at the top of this page and once there click on edit - paste your work (you will lose formatting). 
Then, click the Page tab to come back to this unit page.


How did your approach to planning this research project differ from projects you've created in the past? What really "clicked" and why? What is still confusing? What will you do to answer your outstanding question?


Badke, W.B. (2012). Teaching research processes: The faculty role in the development of skilled student researchers. Oxford, England: Chandos.

Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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