Sunday, May 24, 2015

Week 4 - next steps for the digital research notebook

Throughout #IDE15ALA, I have been reflecting on a possible adaptation of 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. In this class, students create a digital research notebook in which they explore and develop their topics and reflect on the research process through guided weekly assignments. During class, students engage in a variety of collaborative activities, including sharing their research notebook progress, providing peer feedback and review, and generating and sharing ideas.

For my final project, I hope to lay the pedagogical groundwork for the development of  a new version of the digital research notebook that could serve as the basis for a self-directed "course" or perhaps more accurately, "sequence of activities" on developing research skills. If successful, there could be a variety of potential applications for this notebook:
  • 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 a recommended resource for students engaging in writing consultations with the Undergraduate Writing Center;
  • as the foundation for the development of a series of self-directed, sequenced learning modules in research skills and strategies. 
That all sounds rather ambitious at this point, but - it is good to dream, right? ;-)

1. What technologies (and these can be old, new, or emerging) might be most appropriate for your final project? 

And perhaps also Zotero/Endnote, online mindmapping software, and other digital research tools.

2. Does your final project align with any of the trends represented in the Horizon Report you reviewed? 

Related trends from the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Higher Education Edition:

Scaling Teaching Innovations 

It is hard to say whether Honors 101i is innovative or not, but our assessments to date have all shown that it has been an effective course, both in terms of helping students develop a deeper and more diverse personal approach to the research process and in building a supportive learning community. For me the trend in this case is not so much "scaling teaching innovations" but rather: how do we scale effective instructional practice, particularly for a course that involves extensive engagement and interaction both online and face-to-face (f2f).

The question of scaling effective instructional practice is an exceptionally important one for us. Continually increasing enrollment increases the pressure on our existing service models for instruction and reference. For instructional services, our team is at or near our capacity. For research assistance services, while we are not currently close to our service capacity, our campus partners at the Undergraduate Writing Center are frequently fully booked. As we continue to learn the secrets of their success, we have the potential to greatly increase the number of students engaging with research assistance services in the future. Our challenge then is not one of advocacy or "inserting ourselves into the curriculum" -- in many ways we are already well integrated into the curriculum in strategic areas, and likely have more opportunities for embedded/consultative librarianship than our current staff size can effectively deliver. As just one example, there are multiple Undergraduate Education Initiatives with research components where we would welcome an opportunity to increase our instructional engagement given the staffing/capacity. This will only be possible if we learn to build on the success of our smaller-scale engagements, and make some of those learning outcomes accessible to large groups of the undergraduate population through at-scale solutions. This speaks for the creation of a service ecosystem built out of the interaction between our existing services, and the innovative development of more scalable solutions.

Integration of Online, Hybrid, and Collaborative Learning

One could call the current approach to 101i "integrated" in that it attempts to bring together collaborative f2f instruction with independent and reflective learning outside of class time. By some definitions it is "hybrid" or "blended" instruction, though it would be hard to say whether the instruction leans toward either the face-to-face or online..... I think of the course as instruction involving a variety of modes, and find it challenging to imagine a course called "Research Today" taught without some sort of mix of the digital and "traditional."

The possible adaption of the course I'm exploring here relates well to the "integration" trend mentioned in the Horizon Report in that it is an attempt to adapt an effective instructional practice currently delivered in one context into a framework or collection of "de-bundled" instructional elements potentially impactful across multiple contexts and/or modes of learning.

Virtual Assistants?

It is interesting to imagine the potential connections here. This trend is identified as later in the adoption timeline ("four to five years"), but nonetheless a few possibilities and ideas come to mind (all quite imaginary at this point). One could imagine the research notebook being combined with a next generation Research Project Calculator, enhanced with google calendar integration, text reminders, and "smart" applications of learning analytics and the quantified self to assist students with the planning, personal organization, time-on-task, and meta-learning required for success with a long format research/writing assignment. Of course, we would want to make sure that in all of this, we would not be following entirely in the footsteps of clippy.

3. How does your choice of technology enhance or improve instruction, or motivate learners?

The technology here is not absolutely essential, and I hope that in addition to developing the google docs version of the research notebook, we will at the same time be able to develop a similar series of paper handouts that accomplish very similar learning outcomes. The higher-tech version would benefit from the use of supported campus technologies (like and There is also a potential benefit from the integrated use of multiple tools (e.g., google docs + zotero/endnote + ....).

The general idea though, is to further diversity our instructional toolbox, and create learning opportunities for students that include but extend well beyond the one-shot, are effective for diverse learning styles, and are discoverable at a variety of points of need (including the syllabus, course management system, and through direct engagement with library service structures).

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