Monday, October 12, 2015

Two Easy Initial Steps for Better Grades

Some steps toward better grades are so easy and intuitively obvious you would think everyone would take them. Yet, many students fail to lay the ground work for good grades the very first day of the course. Be sure you take these easy initial steps.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Students: Don't Use Google

A sure way to get misdirected and to waste a lot of time with ideas and sources that have no place in academic writing is to use Google as a search tool for your topic. As an online student with limited time (probably with a family to take care of), you don't want to do things that are counter-productive. Almost invariably, nationally accredited academic institutions require that academic papers use peer-reviewed literature. WEBSITES, PAPERS, ARTICLES, OR BLOG POSTS FOUND THROUGH ORDINARY GOOGLE SEARCHES ARE NOT LIKELY TO BE PEER-REVIEWED LITERATURE. Websites sponsored by organizations dedicated to a single cause (abortion rights, worker rights, global warming, etc.) are not likely to be peer-reviewed either.

The best way to find peer-reviewed literature for your research topic is to use a search engine that is designed specifically for that purpose. Almost every college library has access to one. As an online student, you can easily access it. Once you are logged in, use the database to search for your topic in peer-reviewed literature ONLY.

For some reason, I have had a number of students who seem completely mystified by the concept of "peer-reviewed literature." "Peer-reviewed" means that the article was submitted to a publication that reviews articles using a panel of recognized experts in the field. Scientists, medical professionals, psychologists -- "peers" in the field -- must approve of the article before it is published.

This video shows how to use the EBSCO host, a popular database: The video also shows how to get your citations easily.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What to Do When "Kumar" Fails

In the comedy film, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" (2004), Kumar is a team player. As in all "team" films, success is assured. But online group projects do not follow movie scripts. Trust us on this! It's not uncommon to have 50% of teams fail. Often, this is due the failure of one or more team members. In the real world, "Kumar" can fail.

Should you simply report "Kumar's" failure to your instructor and assume that will solve the problem? No. Don't be surprised if such a message to your instructor is simply ignored. The point of many team assignments is to see how YOU handle team dynamics. Be prepared to pick up the slack when team members fail. As for "Kumar," some institutions/instructors use the following rule: only those students whose names appear on the final submitted project will receive a grade and the TEAM decides which names appear and which do not.

(Apologies to all our fans named "Kumar." We know YOU can do it. It's just the other guy named "Kumar" you need to watch out for!)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Total Search Failure

In his article "Why Johnny Can't Search," Clive Thompson references a study at Northwestern University where 102 college students were asked to do research using online resources. Result: All 102 failed to check the author's credentials. Total failure!

Needless to say, if you want an "A" you don't want to be like the Northwestern students. You want to use peer-reviewed resources, which guarantee that the authors have passed at least one test of credibility. Careful instructors and course designers will be sure to write "peer-reviewed" before the word "research" in the syllabus. One reason we wrote the book is that we grew tired of saying "Google and Wikipedia are NOT peer-reviewed resources!"

Both Google and Wikipedia can lead you to peer-reviewed sources, however, which is why they are not totally useless. In fact, one of my favorite research methods is to use the resources and footnotes provided in Wikipedia to find the original (often, peer-reviewed) research on which the Wikipedia article is based.

As an experiment, try entering "globalization" as a search term at the following sites:

See the differences?