Reflection: Carol Gordon’s Student as Authentic Researchers

Below is a discussion question, and my answer, that was asked by the professor in my Information Literacy class (taken in Spring semester, 2011).  It is extremely relevant for tweens.  Most, if not all, of the students at the middle school are in the middle of their year-end research projets.  I see many glazed-over faces.   I would love to see the students using interviews as reference sources.  Not interviews that they read about, but interviews they actually conduct!
Carol Gordon critiques the traditional research assignment and proposes adaptations that would encourage authentic learning. Do you find her suggestions convincing? Would motivation increase with her ideas? What other ideas do you have for increasing motivation among students?

I do find Carol Gordon’s suggestions convincing.  I particularly agree with her suggestion of having students use primary sources in their research papers.  In my own experience, when I have interviewed a person for a research project, I get so much more out of the experience than just reading about it.  When a student has to interview a person, the student must ask the person intelligent questions.  To ask intelligent questions, the student needs to do some research on that person or event that the person is associated.  This is a good first step to get them thinking about the research process and what they want to get out of it.
Interviews don’t have to be done face-to-face (F2F).  I have been involved in, and heard of many other people, including K-12 students, interviewing people who are not near them geographically by using Skype or a web conferencing tool like Elluminate.  For example, Buffy Hamilton, a Teacher Librarian in Georgia, recently tweeted about a Skype interview some of her students did with an Emergency Physician in New Jersey.  She had a YouTube excerpt from the interview and also interviewed the students afterwards about what they thought of it.  The students were very enthusiastic about the Skype interview.
In my own experience, in a face-to-face interview I did in my undergrad program, I remember clearly having an “aha moment”.  The woman I was interviewing was an elderly woman and she pulled out an old viewfinder to show me her personal pictures of her and her husband in Europe during World War II.  I had seen pictures like that a lot in textbooks, but to sit next to a person who had actually lived through it, and to have that person share their personal pictures with me, really touched me, and have stayed with me to this day.
Imagine how much more exciting research projects could be for our students if they were encouraged to interview someone either F2F or online.
As far as motivation, I don’t think Gordon’s methods can motivate students.  The reason I think that is because I believe motivation has to come from within.   As a teacher or librarian, hopefully we can inspire students, or help them make connections, so that they can motivate themselves.
One other idea I have for inspiring students is to allow them to use alternative methods for displaying their work.  For example, I recently showed the teachers at my middle school how to use Glogster, a tool that can be used to create online interactive posters.  The 7th grade science teachers “ran with it” and their classes created Glogsters this week to present an assignment.  The feedback from the students is that is was really fun for them, and allowed them to be creative.  Now, that’s inspiring!
Gordon, C. (1999). Students as authentic researchers: a new prescription for the high school research assignment. School Library Media Research, 2. Retreived from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmrcontents/volume21999/vol2gordon.cfm
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