“Backwards Research”

Recently I have been experiencing the phenomenon of students doing research backwards.  Papers are completely written, and then they go looking for information to support their claims.  It’s one thing to have a paper written, and then realize you need more support for a particular section or argument, but to have no research done at all?  These students are completely missing the point of their assignments.

So if they are not using literature to help develop and support their ideas, where are they getting information from?  Mostly, they make it up.  Granted, these students have been mostly students in first year classes, working on argumentative papers.  But the problem really happens when their arguments don’t make a lot of sense, or are too general or too specific to find literature.  One student told me, “I just need some quotations to throw in my paper, I don’t really care where they come from.”

So what are they learning when they write papers like this?  I think, nothing.  I was working with a student and showing him how to find the information he needed, and he remarked that this would take a long time.  I told him, yes, it does.  “But my paper is due at 4 p.m.”  I looked at the clock, and it was 2:39.  I said he had better get to work, and good luck.  He then asked if I could write a note to his professor explaining the problem, as an excuse for his paper not being turned in on time.  Was this student having a problem?  Yes.  Was it my problem, or the libraries’ fault?  No.  Definitely not.  The library does not write notes or provide proof of attendance anyway, and this was completely the student’s own fault for not doing his assignment correctly, and waiting until the last minute to do it.  Sorry, kid, I’m not your mother, and you’re not in high school.

The most disappointing of these cases were the students who came in for individual consultations, those who had been in a class I had taught.  Weeks ago.  Telling them to start their research now.  Explaining that research is a process, and can’t be done overnight.  That you have to keep and open mind, and go where the literature takes you.  Did I fail as a library instructor?  Are they really not getting it, or do they not care?  Or do they just really not have the time?  How do we fix this problem???

I see a study and an article in my future…


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