We discussed how we teach keywords in this DART with the frame, Searching as Strategic Exploration hovering in the background. A lot of us use some sort of mind mapping or concept mapping to work through keyword instruction, and many of us guide students by contextualizing keyword brainstorming in discussion of issues like audience and popular vs scholarly information. For instance, Porcia starts such conversations off with a source type activity in order to teach students about the ecosystem of information within their topic or discipline.
A couple of us – especially those who teach freshmen – observe that students are reluctant, or don’t see the value in, brainstorming keywords or reformulating after failed searches. Students often don’t go beyond typing their topic into a search bar, “such as pros and cons of neoliberalism.” Interrupting that is difficult, but some attempt to interrupt this with following the conversation around the topic so students see how topics are debated and described in real life. Porcia mentioned PICO, a mnemonic for the elements of a clinical question: Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome. Most of us non-science folks recognized that this is similar to how we teach students to identify stakeholders and controversies when researching topics. Another tactic Porcia uses is to give students an abstract alone and then ask them to pull keywords out and write a title for the paper. I’m excited to see where I can use this in a session or course!
Developing one’s topic and developing a search strategy go hand in hand, so narrowing a topic before searching often results in a topic with little written about it. Porcia teaches her students to investigate topics using something they already understand: the scientific method – this way they are compelled to test their topics through investigation, as well as to acquire new info and build upon existing knowledge, resulting in healthier topics. Sarah Brandt often sees students who start with an answer and then -plug in evidence later. This started us discussing how we wonder if professors are explaining to students that research is how we learn about disciplines, that there is a conversation happening that they need to tap into. Gina’s students recognize that they are not passive consumers of information – this is empowering for them in the research process. As Joe commented, there is a transition that occurs when you recognizes that the audience for your work is not just your professor, but also other scholars.
I don’t know that we have a silver bullet for teaching this tricky topic, but we shared our experiences and approaches. I’m looking forward to ongoing conversations about our teaching keywords as well as hoping that folks contribute tried and tested approaches in the Toolkit!