It’s tempting to give up on setting research based homework because of the exhausting battle against plagiarism, but there is an alternative! See these resources and ideas from the Literacy group.
Although I’m sure that plagiarism has always been an issue for teachers, it seems that it has never been easier for pupils to hand in others’ ideas as their own. At least in our pre-internet past, pupils would have had to physically copy (and therefore read) material in order to hand it in. Whereas now, it would appear that many pupils only see as far as removing the hyperlinks and changing the font before printing the work for submission.
In our Literacy Group meetings, we have been discussing the important of research skills and developing pupils’ information literacy. To some this may seem less important in the digital age, where information is unquestionably easier to find. The issue for us as teachers is that the quality of information out there is so variable.
In his talk at the Education Festival last year, Geoff Barton used an example of a website which appears as one of the top hits on Google when searching for Martin Luther King. The website, innocuously named ‘martinlutherking.org’, claims to be a ‘True Historical Examination’ and is described as ‘The truth about Martin Luther King: Includes historical trivia, articles and pictures. A valuable resource for teachers and students alike.’. When you visit the page however, it is clear, at least to a more discerning adult audience, that the website is written by a white-supremacist group and is filled with unpleasant, racist propaganda. More worryingly it invites pupils to join discussion groups and print fliers to hand out at school.
Of course this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the need for a shift in thinking around information literacy. Whereas in the past, we wanted to teach pupils to find more information, now we need to help them learn to search more effectively and be able to filter what they find. There is so much out these on most topics that it may be more about what they choose to disregard than what they keep.
I know many teachers who avoid setting research-based homework simply because it is so time consuming to police pupils use of online sources.
Wait…there is another way!
Katie B in the Art department has come up with a really useful document detailing 6 alternatives to the research homework. These strategies have been tried and tested by members of her department. I’ve combined these ideas with the rules below and the full document is available here.
As well as using ideas similar to those Katie has suggested, I’ve been trying to raise the expectations I have of pupils in terms of research. I’ve done this by setting the following Research Rules, and I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the quality of work handed in.
- Use at least 3 sources
- Cite the sources in full (with URLs and dates accessed where online)
- Summarise learning from each using your own words
- Highlight anything directly quoted from the research
- Present the information neatly and write accurately
I’ve also tried placing other limitations on the task depending on my group. For example, I’ve stated that at least one source must be non-internet based. I’ve also stipulated with a group that only two of their three sources may be aimed at pupils and that one must be aimed at a general audience. These criteria encourage pupils to sift through information rather than selecting whatever is at the top of the list. What is more, they are quick and easy to administer and check. If you have time, it’s also useful to ask pupils to evaluate the effectiveness of the sources they used. Which was best and why?
Hopefully this post will provide a little support for those who have given up hope on research homework. Please post any additional research homework ideas in the comments section!