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Faculty Toolkit

Why Low Stakes Activities?

Research Boosters: Strategies for Building Student Skills

The process of research is often more complex than students anticipate. Part of helping them succeed is making visible the steps in the research process and helping students recognize that each step will require them to employ different skills.

This section of the Faculty Toolkit provides small, low-stakes activities that can be adapted and deployed throughout the semester to help students develop the skills and understanding needed to get them to the finish line: the research project!

For each activity, we provide learning outcomes and information about materials required and time needed. The activities are organized by stages in the research process:

This collection of activities is ever evolving, and we would love to include your ideas, too. If you have a low-stakes activity idea for helping students develop understanding or skills for research, please email Professor Linda Miles.

Research Skills That Transcend Disciplines

The Association for Research and College Libraries (ACRL) has been promoting an understanding of research skills that transcend a particular discipline. One of their major contributions to discourse on student learning of research skills is the idea that there are certain information literacy "threshhold concepts" that fundamentally change the way students understand research.

Research as Inquiry

​Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.

  • What this can mean for Hostos students: Students new to research sometimes think that the point of research is only to find sources that confirm what they already think, and without encouragement will not embrace research as an opportunity to ask questions, particularly if they are afraid that they can't find the answers, or are frustrated when they discover that each potential answer leads to more questions. We can show them that the iterative nature of research is normal and productive.

Information Creation as a Process

Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.

  • What this can mean for Hostos students:  Students, when asked what Google does, will usually say it "finds you information" or "finds answers" - rarely do they say it "finds websites", let alone "finds websites, each of which was created by a person or group of people for a specific purpose." any critical interrogation of authorship has to begin with the awareness that they are not looking at "information" but rather at a text that has been produced and shared for a purpose.
  • Behind the idea of promoting peer-reviewed articles is the idea that the production of such work has inherent value; we can also talk about how other kinds of works beyond peer review are produced, and their strengths, values, and weaknesses. For instance, students may not have considered or examined the differences created by gate-keeping levels of editors, and accountability to a known and researchable owner/board, in a traditional newspaper or news magazine vs the self-publishing of many websites and social media, and implications for research.

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Information resources reflect their creators' expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used.  Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority.  It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.

  • What this can mean for Hostos students: The criteria for determining an "authoritative source" for students' research will depend largely on the kind of question they're seeking to answer.

Information Has Value

Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination.

  • What this can mean for Hostos students: We can help students examine and understand the social, political, and economic contexts of information production as a way of not immediately taking everything at face value.

Scholarship as Conversation

Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.

  • What this can mean to Hostos students: Understanding scholarship as conversation, and the process of knowledge-building as both inherently collective and unavoidably embedded in time, can help students question a more rigid idea of truth as something that exists outside of human beings and never changes, and develop a more sophisticated understanding of the unending human quest for truth and the evolution of our shared knowledge.
  • Understanding that discourse is part of knowledge production also gives them insight into why scholars cite one another and, by extension, why they are being asked to cite their sources. 

Searching as Strategic Exploration