Send Students on an Odyssey When Doing Research
In my ENG102 Freshman Composition course I have 10 assignments and four papers that students do before they submit their final research projects. Five of the assignments are research assignments and are required in order to submit a final paper. I named the research assignments Odysseys, something I borrowed from a colleague years ago when I first started teaching at CAC. The whole idea of the Odyssey assignments is to get students practicing several research skills in one assignment that are directly related to their final projects. This is how I introduce these assignments to students.
What is an Odyssey?
An odyssey, famous for a Greek epic poem (attributed to Homer) describing the journey of Odysseus after the fall of Troy, is a long wandering and eventful journey. This is a perfect description for writing a research paper. It’s not something that we put together in a day. Writing a research paper is a long wandering and eventful journey, so some of the key journeys in this process have been labeled odysseys to indicate their importance. All Odyssey assignments are required and must be submitted in order for your final paper to be accepted. No skipping Odysseys. They are mandatory.
The Odyssey assignments include:
- Locating Sources on the Internet
- Locating Books on the Online Library Catalog
- Locating Periodicals in Databases
- Scholarly Journal Search
- Locating References Sources (in the Library/not online)
All five assignments have similar elements. For one, at least one of the sources they discover during each of the research assignments must be used in the final paper. This helps eliminate students turning in some random paper at the end. It’s more difficult if they have to integrate these sources into a paper that is already written. Or if they are doing it correctly, it makes it easier to integrate sources into a final paper by doing it a little at a time.
Each assignments also calls for students to either summarize, paraphrase or quote from the sources found. Each assignment focuses on just one note taking skill in each assignment. Each assignment asks for students to think critically about the usefulness of the chosen source, both specifically on the topic and on the source type in general. For instance, when searching for reference sources, they must choose four different types of references sources and discuss how each is useful for the given project. In addition, they contemplate how the specific information discover can be used in their final paper.
Lastly, each assignment requires that students practice documentation style by adding all the new sources to a working bibliography. The first half of the class they learn MLA, and then we switch to APA in the second half. So students are required to take a MLA working bibliography and transfer it over to APA format. They have several lessons on the major differences between the two and in what situations they would choose one or the other.
Each assignment, including the other five non-odyssey assignments, build on the final project. When students have worked their way through all the assignments in the class, it’s just a matter of revision, editing, and expanding their final paper. They have plenty of sources and plenty of notes that they’ve already spent time evaluating, citing and synthesizing into smaller assignments. It’s teaches students that writing a research paper is process, and if done right, it’s not that difficult to do.