It was persuasive speech season in my Intro to Communication course.
I always caution my students to avoid persuasive topics that are heavily overdone i.e., abortion, gun control, euthanasia, etc.
My only exception to this rule?
If students can come up with a super-fresh new angle on the subject, I'll rethink my position.
|If you're spending enough time in the library, you'll be so |
tired that you'll need to sit down... just not on the bookstacks.
Or, in Student's case, the legalization of marijuana.
(Groan. That topic. Again.)
I reiterated to Student that a new angle on this idea was badly, badly needed, that there was little to say that the audience hasn't heard. If Student could do some research and come up with a new angle, I'd reconsider.
So, what did I receive during persuasive speech draft time?
Your standard "why we should legalize pot" outline.
(Did I already groan?)
I sent the outline back to the student via e-mail, ungraded with this comment: "I thought we discussed that you need to find a new angle on this subject."
Student's reply? "I looked for six hours and couldn't find any way to change it!"
Now in the past 10+ years, I wish I had a nickel for every time a student swore that they researched for hours and hours and couldn't find anything.
Then, I go in and do one half-assed search of my own and I usually find something.
If I do a full-assed search (because that does exist, right?)--we're talking deep in the online library journal collections, etc.--I can almost always find the research that the student could have found!
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Ellen, you have degrees. You have experience in research."
And that would be true.
But, to be fair, every college student has access to people like me... right on the college campus! (And you know who they are!).
So when Student was saying that there was absolutely no new twist on legalization of marijuana--and Student searched for Six. Full. Hours., I took that as a personal challenge!
For the next few minutes, this nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn who has never even tried pot (really, now, haven't you caught on that food is my total drug of choice from my last blog posts?)... was all about pot...
...on my state computer!
(Which I've learned from my IT department is actually fine because, hey, sometimes the Human Sexuality profs have to look up some pretty interesting things, too... as long as it's in the name of teaching, and in this case, it definitely was!).
Within less than 20 minutes, I saw news that California was about to put the legalization of marijuana to its voters (this was a couple of years ago, by the way). Student could put a persuasive speech together giving some background on California's situation, and then doing a compare/contrast with Washington State. Essentially, if the student could find reasonable correlations between California (or even another state putting the option on the ballot) and Washington State, then the newly twisted argument could be that, for these reasons, Washington should follow suit.
So what's the communication lesson here? (Didn't you miss this over the past couple of weeks? I did!)
Don't just blanketly tell your professor, "I did X-hours of research and couldn't find squat!"
Instead, first and foremost... do the research and do it as well as you possibly can! Your prof is not going to want to hear how many hours you spent coming up with nothing; she's going to want to know what sites you've searched, if you've talked to your friendly neighborhood librarian, and any other measures you've taken!
That's right! The first question I always ask my students after they tell me how much time they spent finding nothing is, "Tell me where you've looked."
My next question? "What did the librarians say?"
The student usually looks away and replies, "Um, I didn't go to the library yet. I thought I'd try on my own first and see if I could find something."
By this point, your professor will probably think, "Why would you struggle on your own when you have a campus library and even neighborhood libraries--complete with skilled librarians--who can help talk you through your research?"
What should you say instead?
-First, tell your professor, "I have a list of the resources I've tried to look through already." Having a list of sites you've explored, books you've paged through (remember books you can hold in your hand? They still exist!), periodicals, etc. can help your prof see where you were trying to go, even if you came up empty. Then he can help focus your search.
-Next, keep the time out of it. This is college and you're supposed to spend a lot of time on research. It's what you signed up for.
It's not like your prof is going to give you warm milk and say, "Oh, you poor dear, you spent 10 hours searching and didn't find anything? Let me take that over for you."
Or, a student who only says they spent two hours on research would hear, "No, no, no! You have eight more hours to go before I'll help you!"
Really, the time doesn't matter. The professor will react more positively to tangible evidence of your search (i.e., the list I mentioned above).
Some students will even print pages of articles, bring them to me, and say, "You know, I'm not really sure this one will work." I definitely welcome that type of evidence of what the student has attempted!
-Now, it goes without saying that before you tell your prof you've found nothing on your own, you will have gone to the library first for help. What happens then is you will likely have something in your hot little hand to show your prof.
You can say, "I went to the library two days ago and the librarian helped me come up with this information. I'm not really sure how to incorporate it or if the content is even right for my topic. Would you be willing to take a look?"
There! You've made a specific request and you've shown responsibility by discussing the course of action you've already taken!
While my message may seem a little direct, I do understand that many students have the habit of searching the Internet first before doing any other research. After all, it's convenient... you may already be at home, and you're in your fuzzy PJs (mine have cats holding umbrellas... uh oh... TMI?), and you don't really feel like you want to move from your laptop.
I also believe that students perceive the amount of time they spend researching as far more as what they actually spend doing so. I know you may feel frustrated and hopeless when you can't find what you're looking for... or when you don't even know what you're looking for.
Wonderful student, I know it's hard to get in the habit of going to a library or a tutoring center for help when you need it. You may feel weak for even having to ask for help (remember this post? It was my second most popular one to date!). But, remember, if you knew all about research, then you should be teaching your classes, not taking them.
Learning how to do efficient research is one of the most practical tools you'll ever learn in college.
You may think you'll never use the strategies again, but you will. You never know when you'll be at work and need to find a piece of credible information. Practice in college. You'll be glad you did (and others will think you're brilliant when you can come up with great info quick-fast!).
In the meantime, let your prof help you evaluate research that you've already found yourself.
Personally, I'd like to not search for the latest news on pot again.
(Especially on my work computer).
Students, how's your research going? How is your term going? What are you struggling with? I'm always taking questions! Colleagues from all across education, what communication advice do you have for students requesting help with research? If I don't have the answers, I'm glad to do some research and find them!