My research processes and papers in high school only gave me rough ideas of what research could be. I was told to write a research paper, whatever that meant. My subjects varied, from trying to prove why Joan of Arc was one of the most influential people in history (which was essentially me trying to make a flimsy argument about how she shaped France and about how France shaped the world, even though most of the paper was just a history report) to Rasputin (again, a history report) to censorship and book banning in schools (an actual research paper!)
What I learned in high school ultimately influenced how I wrote research papers when I got to college, although I was able to skip 103 and 104 here at Ball State. My first research papers involved me trying to wrap my head around what a college thesis would look like and what a college level argument would look like, and in my second semester of college, I had a research paper existential crisis when I received a C+ on a paper in a class titled Reading and Writing About Literature. Something I should have known a lot about.
Had I know how to write a research paper before then? It didn’t feel like it. The professor had given us a crash course in theoretical lenses to apply to our papers, saying we had to utilize two, but I only vaguely knew what that meant outside of just looking for sources that used words like “Freud” or “masculine” in their titles.
This may have been failure to contribute, but it certainly wasn’t failure to learn, even if it felt like I had completely failed. (That B+ on my undergraduate transcript will still haunt me, even as I try desperately to forget it.)
What would have been beneficial to me then, and what would be beneficial to students taking first year composition, when writing a research paper for the first time, would have been understanding how to go about the actual research process.
I had some understanding of how to annotate sources from my research paper senior year, as I placed tab after tab on pages with promise (whatever promise meant) and wrote notes to myself (I still tab, but note-taking is infrequent depending on what kind of research I’m working on), but annotating sources is one kind of information management that I think is important for first year composition courses when their goal is to teach research.
While, in a learner-centered classroom, the teacher should act as a facilitator, that does not mean that teachers can simply assign tasks with no support whatsoever (scaffolding throwback!). Just as we devote days in our classes to go to the library and learn how to use the databases for research, we should devote time to how to go about the research process, including the nitty gritty of taking notes and organizing sources.
Technology is a great way to bring that information management into our FYC classrooms (although tech free techniques can be modeled, too; my composition teacher in high school changed my life with sticky tabs). The only technology I used in high school for writing my research papers were word processors and the copy machine to make copies of pages out of library books, but with resources like Evernote (which even has a web clipper!), Google Drive, OneNote, and other sources at our disposal, why are we not showing our students ways that they can manage their research process? This will only make research an easier process for everyone in the end: both for the students writing and for the instructors grading.
Information management doesn’t just have to apply to note-taking in our classrooms either; we can show students how to use EndNote and other technologies (such as recording apps for interviews, if students are doing primary research), but what is really important is that we actually show our students how to do these things and how to use these tools.
Providing a list of resources will only help a select few students, and as technology becomes more and more important in FYC classrooms, it becomes more and more important for us to show how other modes can inform our writing process and not just our products.