Research Writing Rewired: Composing Using Digital Tools

Research papers often get a bad reputation. But we conduct research all the time in our everyday lives. Whether we want to understand civic issues or make a major life purchase, we need research skills to sift through all the information. Research writing skills students practice in the classroom need to transfer to their lives too. The most powerful opportunities for this kind of academic learning to transfer to lifelong skills happens when students have some degree of choice about the topics and texts they will study, are able to socially construct new meaning from shared experience, and to demonstrate their skills in both writing and through other media.

As teachers, we have an opportunity to “rewire” research writing and change the reputation of research in the classroom. Let’s invite students to:

  • engage in a research process that is authentic through natural inquiry and purposeful process writing with a real audience

  • explore questions about the world around them, so that they want to read, listen, and view various media in order to learn more about their interests

  • learn through conversation with others in professional learning spaces, such as in online spaces with their classmates in Google docs or a wiki, or in the Youth Voices community, so that they can be involved in furthering their synthesis in conversation with others

  • be inspired to compose both a traditional research paper that hones their academic writing and synthesis skills, as well as with media including images, video, music, typography, and color in order to embrace various ways of forming argument

 Troy Hicks and I recently co-authored Research Writing Rewired: Lessons That Ground Students’ Digital Learning in which we outline our theoretical grounding and share an entire unit with handouts and student examples. Our goal: to spark inquiry with students through the use of questioning and careful reading of a variety of texts. We offer opportunity for students to engage in analysis of common nonfiction reading and literature circle texts all the while asking questions and making connections to future inquiries. Through this work, we guide students to further hone a research question and share their learning along the way with the Youth Voices community. We further engage students in exploring contemporary conversations and research through involvement with KQED Do Now and use of digital research tools, such as Citelighter and in peer review with Eli Review. We guide students in researching with a purpose and crafting both print and media based compositions that offers an argument about their personal inquiry.

Allison’s work, for instance, stems from her curiosities about how entertainment changes over time and is influenced by societal constructs. She arrived at this question through exploring entertainment as an artifact of culture and then reading Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and analyzing the role of characters in the text that serve as a form of entertainment. Allison then explored entertainment over time as shared in her research paper and media product. She arrived at this work through the purposeful process of conversation and reading for synthesis.

Two other students, Zoya and Allie, share their final media projects based on their question “what is beauty?” and “how does society construct images of beauty?” in this video.

Throughout the process of “rewiring” research, it has been clear that work with inquiry, process writing for audiences in digital spaces, as well as use of digital tools have made research writing more meaningful for my students. This past winter, a few of my students joined a conversation to reflect on the experience in an Educator Innovator webinar Three Rs of the Modern Era: Research Writing Rewired. In this discussion it was clear that students took away many valuable lessons from this work, as they talked about the value of authentic audiences and purposes for their work, using digital tools to annotate and gather resources for their work, as well as the value of professional learning communities for support idea development and refinement of their compositions. Collaborative learning was valued by these students as they challenged one another in their ideas and compositions in support of learning. Join me to continue this collaboration of learning at the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing on Sunday, October 2 from 1:30pm to 2:30pm EST to talk with you about these vary ideas. Register for the conference to participate in engaging (free!) webinars.