Research on Student Research


Case Study

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On the first day of the semester Darren looked at the syllabus for his nursing course and noticed that there was a research paper due on the last day of class. He skimmed the description, which follows:

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

Darren noted the due date on his calendar – and promptly moved on to more immediate deadlines. Half way through the semester the professor posted the full assignment to blackboard and reminded students of the due date. Weeks later Darren looked at the full assignment and was overwhelmed with the task at hand.

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What could the professor have done to make the assignment more manageable and help keep Darren on track?


In this unit you will learn about how undergraduates experience research and reflect on your experiences working with students on research projects.


  • Participants will Identify common hurdles experienced by undergraduates in the research process.
  • Participants will reflect on previous research assignments.

To complete this unit you will

  • Watch a video
  • Read an article
  • Write about what you saw and read and apply that to your own experience
  • Draft framing language about research
  • Reflect on what you learned

Why does it matter?

When we engage in our own research we are experts with a fluency in our disciplinary discourse and a grounding in acceptable research methods. This is very different than how our students, novice researchers, experience the process. In a study of over 10,000 students from 60 campuses Head and Eisenberg (2010) discovered that “over three-fourths of the students (76%) reported that it was … important to find answers to insert in their paper to prove to the instructor the research part of the assignment had been done…Many students see course-related research as being answer driven” (p. 33). In order to meet on common ground it is important that the expert steps back to recognize the experience of the novice.


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Above are students' answers to the question "what one word sums up how you feel at the moment you receive a course-related research assignment?" (Eisenberg & Head, 2009).

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

Badke (2012) sums up a key challenge in transforming how students approach research: Students need to see research as a problem-solving exercise in which gathered information becomes a means to solve the problem rather than an end in itself. Only with considerable practice and professional guidance can students become skilled at formulating concise and useful research questions” (p. 18).

Here are a few things to keep in mind about undergraduate researchers:

  • They often consider research to be a series of pre-defined steps that result in finding the right answer
  • Before college chances are that they were not exposed to scholarly resources and do not understand scholarly communication.
  • They are unfamiliar with disciplinary discourse and research methods – it might help to consider them as language learners when it comes to your discipline
  • College and university libraries can be mysterious and overwhelming and this can lead to avoidance of library resources, tools, and librarians.
  • Students are introduced to "college level research" in first year composition courses but this does not equate to knowing how to research or understanding research in the disciplines.

Watch the video It's Complicated: What Students Say About Research and Writing Assignments - from Project Information Literacy]. As you watch the video write down anything you hear that you think will be valuable information as you design your research project.

Read the article Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age again from Project Information Literacy. Pay particular attention to Part Three: Difficulties with the Research Process pp. 24-37.

Write answers to the following questions

  • What are the major hurdles that undergraduates experience with research assignments?
  • How might you address the following hurdles in your class?
    • What are some helpful discussion questions or activities to help students understand research as a process of critical inquiry rather than finding the right answer?
    • How can you help students get started with their research?
    • How can you help students evaluate information sources?


Throughout this mini-course you will be creating a research project for one of your classes. This particular exercise will give you material for any research projects that you assign.

  • Draft introductory language for your research project that defines research and helps students understand its relevance and application.

When you have completed your draft add it to the discussion board for this unit.

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.


Reflect on your own experience creating, assigning and grading research projects and consider the following questions.

  • What information in the video and/or article surprised you ? Why was it surprising?
  • What information in the video and/or article was not surprising? Why wasn't it surprising?


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

Head, A.J., & Eisenberg, M.B. (2009). Finding context: What today's college students say about conducting research in the digital age. Retrieved from

Head, A.J., & Eisenberg, M.B. (2010). Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age. Retrieved from

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