Friday, May 29, 2015

Final Project Post: Digital Research Notebook

Instructional Environment

A description of your environment: your teaching scenario, learners, purpose or end goal, and timeline. 

For my final project in #IDE15ALA, I am exploring the development of a digital research notebook that could be used as a flexible starting point for undergraduate researchers at UCLA working on a small to medium scale research project (e.g., a short research paper in an undergraduate seminar or freshman cluster course). One of the key inspirations for this idea is the book "How to be explorer of the world." Described as a "guided journal" this book is a series of explorations, investigations, and reflections on the world around us. There are many insights in the book for emerging researchers, and as I read I started to wonder what a similar "guided journal" might look like for a research-based creative process.

My first exploration of this concept came in a course called Honors 101i - "Research Today," an upper-division undergraduate seminar on research methods that includes both extensive in-class interaction and a strong self-directed online component outside of class time. The research notebook words quite well in this course, but its current success relies on the extensive in class engagement and learning community that forms in the course.

The adaption I'm considering here would likely be quite challenging, as it would involve creating a notebook that could be used by students on their own (i.e., w/o the benefit of taking 101i) to achieve similar (though likely fewer and less in-depth) learning outcomes to those we cover in the seminar course.

If successful, I hope the research notebook would be useful in at least some of the following contexts:

  • incorporation of the entire notebook or modular elements of the notebook into other courses seeking to strengthen the scaffolding of the research and writing process outside of class time;
  • as a resource in support of a reference interview in which peer-to-peer research assistants could help students focus on their current research/writing challenge, and then identify subsequent steps as activities in the research notebook;
  • as the foundation for the development of a series of self-directed, sequenced learning modules in research skills and strategies. 
  • as the starting point for a student in developing their own, more personalized version of a research notebook useful for future research, writing, and creative projects.

In this post I plan to lay the groundwork for (rather than attempt to finalize) some of the core instructional design considerations involved in creating the notebook.

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes should be based on the needs and expectations of your environment and appropriate for your learners. 

Possible learning outcomes, include the following:

Through active and sustained engagement with their research notebook, as well as active collaboration with their collaborators, students will be able to:

  • Develop a general topic or idea into a set of exploratory research questions.
  • Narrow (and broaden) research questions using a variety of strategies (e.g., geographic areas, cultural aspects, groups of people, time spans, or other strategies)
  • Identify the potential audience(s) for their research topic/question.
    • identify the compelling questions currently under discussion and debate by these audiences related to the student's topic.
    • explore and evaluate their topic/question from a variety of perspectives, particularly in the context of diverse audiences for their research project.
  • Identify the local (UCLA+LA) communities that are currently available to assist with their research project and/or currently engaging with similar questions.
    • Form a personal learning/researching/writing community (team?) around the research project, to include at least several of the following roles - research advisors (e.g., library staff available for research consultations), writing advisors (e.g., the undergraduate writing center), sounding board (a friend or classmate willing to listen and provide feedback on your ideas), a member of your potential audience (perhaps your instructor or teaching assistant, but also possibly a member of the research community currently discussing your question/topic). 
  • Generate and apply a robust vocabulary of keywords and an evolving and strategic approach to search
  • Develop skills to actively broaden and narrow search results, and to use search results to launch new searches and gain new insight on the research project/process.
  • Begin to articulate the significance of their research topic/question for their audience and their own personal research.
  • Identify two or more UCLA Research research guides and three or more databases related to their topic/question.

Assessment Strategy

How will you assess your learners? What formative and summative assessments would best fit in your teaching scenario? Do they align with your outcomes?

An ideal assessment scenario would involve students "opting-in" to share their research notebooks for evaluation purposes. Other assessment strategies might include partnering with composition (and other) courses that have adopted the research notebook, and incorporating direct assessment of student writing (e.g., assessing the quality of sources integrated into a research paper).

The research notebook should include multiple opportunities for students to provide feedback to the developers at each stage of the research/creative process, likely through quick surveys integrated into the notebook.

A development process involving diverse stakeholders (e.g., students, library staff, composition instructors, freshman cluster instructors) would likely evolve into an assessment team, identifying which learning outcomes seem more (and less) successfully implemented and working on continual improvement.

Learning Theories & Approaches

What learning theories best support your outcomes? How might you leverage these theories to develop content and assessments? 

One of the most significant challenges for this project involves adapting the social constructivist approach we use in the current seminar, to a context in which learners would need to form and engage with their own learning/researching/writing community. As such, a key component will need to be encouraging and motivating students to form a team around their project to include library staff, writing center staff, as well as friends, fellow students, teaching assistants, and ideally, members of the research community currently discussing their topic/question.

Also particularly challenging here will be keeping the notebook necessarily generic to apply to a variety of instructional contexts, but specific enough to be relevant for individual students. In 101i we are able to make continual adjustments to the course based on students evolving research interests. The notebook would have to search as more of an open platform, evolving with students as their projects develop. This sounds pretty challenging to do well!

Learning Tools

What tools will you use to deliver this content and have learners interact with your instruction? What might work best and why? 


  • Campus google docs:
  • CCLE (UCLA's Moodle instance)
  • A growing series of YouTube videos on research strategies
  • And perhaps also Zotero/Endnote, online mindmapping software, and other digital research tools.

Reflections on  #IDE15ALA course & community

Reflect on what you have learned. What has been most useful? What do you feel you are still struggling with? How has this course changed how you approach instruction?

This has been a fantastic course! It has been wonderful to take another look, both at 101i, and at the idea of a more generally applicable research notebook that we might try to make more broadly available and with an impact at a larger scale. I have really enjoyed the review of learning theories - particularly in the context of library instruction (most of my "theory" came in the context of language instruction). Struggling with? Time!! I would love to have been able to invest 3, 4, 5 times as much time into this course. It is fun to think and write about teaching!! I also hope I'll get to actually make what I have been exploring here (time needed there, too!).

I'm looking forward to working with our UCLA cohort on the next steps, including offering an instructional design workshop for all library staff this summer. That should be fun if we can pull it off!

Regarding the course community - I think that has been super, too! Everyone has been very supportive and it has been great to see so much exploratory and brave work being done regarding instructional practice. I wish I had more time to devote to reading through people's blog posts - I know there have been TONS of awesome ideas generated that I haven't read yet!!

Super course! BIG thanks!!

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