Research Project Packet (RPP)

Author

J. Indigo Eriksen

Assistant Professor of English

Northern Virginia Community College

Melissa Crowder Rhoden

Adjunct Instructor of English

Blue Ridge Community College

Citation

Eriksen, J. I & Rhoden, M. C. (2015). Research Project Packet. Northern Virginia Community College and Blue Ridge Community College.

Description

The Research Project Packet (RPP) is a resource for both students and educators. The packet is designed to be incorporated and adapted into any course with a research and writing component, from the first year to the graduate course.  Its Creative Commons license allows educators to modify the packet materials to meet the needs of their courses and students. 

This packet assesses many DQP proficiencies over much of the semester.  Most notably, it utilizes analytic inquiry, use of information resources, communicative fluency, and applied and collaborative learning.  Depending on the nature of the actual research assignment, it can utilize ethical reasoning, engaging diverse perspectives, and civic and global learning.

Background and Context

Indigo Eriksen created “The Research Project Packet” (RPP) as result of The Chancellor’s OER Adoption Grant Phases I and II (2013, 2014) and the James Madison University-Blue Ridge Community College Transfer Alignment Grant (2014). The RPP is designed to help students understand and develop skill in successful approaches to both research and the writing process. The RPP is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Originally the RPP was designed for First-year College Composition students at the Community College level. The RPP is introduced at the middle of the semester and culminates at the end of the term with the final draft of the research essay.

The Research Project Packet is a resource for both students and educators. The packet is designed to be incorporated and adapted into any course with a research and writing component, from the first year to the graduate course.  Its Creative Commons license allows educators to modify the packet materials to meet the needs of their courses and students. This “Educators Edition” includes notes for educators based on the combined experiences of both Indigo Eriksen, Assistant Professor of English at NVCC Woodbridge, and Melissa Crowder Rhoden, Adjunct Instructor of English at BRCC.

This packet assesses many DQP proficiencies over much of the semester.  Most notably, it utilizes analytic inquiry, use of information resources, communicative fluency, and applied and collaborative learning.  Depending on the nature of the actual research assignment, it can utilize ethical reasoning, engaging diverse perspectives, and civic and global learning.

Alignment and Scaffolding

The RPP is a scaffolded assignment in that it breaks down the process of researching for and writing a research essay into smaller steps. The RPP is introduced at the middle of the semester and culminates at the end of the term with the final draft of the research essay.

Reflections

While the majority of students reflect that the RPP is a useful tool not only in their English class but also for use in future classes, when they first review the assignment they tend to feel overwhelmed. In order to assuage their feelings of panic I (Eriksen) have been experimenting with a variety of ways of introducing the assignment. At this point the most successful tactic I’ve used is by separating students into groups of 3-4, handing them a printed version of the packet, and asking them to figure out what the packet is. This way they have a safe environment to talk through their anxiety. After they have looked through their packets, we discuss their initial reactions, talk through their questions, and review the assignment requirements. As much as possible we start assignments together (especially the brainstorming and electronic research activity). Additionally, distributing the RPP in parts can avoid overwhelming the students.

Professor Crowder Rhoden realized the benefit of asking the students to present their results to each other as often as possible. The students sit in a circle and “show and tell” their brainstorms, outlines, annotated bibliography, etc. This also aids in grading as the instructor can grade as students share their results. More importantly, students are able to receive immediate feedback on their assignments while learning from each other. Professor Crowder Rhoden also created the “Find the Librarian” activity in order to introduce students to one of the best, yet underutilized, resources on the college campus: librarians. Throughout the research process students are likely to encounter various challenges, including difficulty locating up-to-date relevant sources, accessing articles for purchase, requesting texts through ILL, and so on. The “Find the Librarian” activity compels students to solve these problems by meeting a librarian and requesting help with these tasks.

In addition to the “show and tell” method of sharing, I also created an activity I call “thesis defense,” which occurs on the day that students complete their outline. Students are put into groups of 3-4 (4 is ideal). Without using their notes, each student has seven minutes to “defend” her/his thesis statement and their research and three minutes to receive helpful feedback from their peers. It is important that the three students who are not defending their thesis statements sit in a line across from the student who is defending. The formality of this arrangement encourages students to think about their work more seriously. After this activity students reflect that they see the holes in their argument and are more aware of what they do and do not know about their topics.

The RPP has undergone several revisions, especially the peer review sections. As it is a long assignment, each instructor should revise in order to best meet student needs. We suggest that instructors organize the RPP according to their students’ needs including color-coding, tabs, and visual cues that make sense for those students. Additional recommendations for continued revision include: meeting with disabilities services to redesign the RPP’s visual components for a variety of learning styles; including space for reflection, clear headers, and additional opportunities for critical inquiry; and connecting with the larger scholarly community at each instructor’s specific institution.

Some students are already very good at the research process. These students find the RPP to be tedious and unnecessary. One suggestion for these students is to offer them the opportunity to be peer mentors in exchange for a modified assignment that is less scaffolded.

Overall, students learn how to break down the research and writing process into steps and leave class with the skills to write meaningful essays. They also leave with an electronic copy of the RPP, which they can then use in future classes.


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