Choosing a research topic

I teach an internet research course. It’s just a one hour course, but it’s required in a couple of programs, and a lot of other students take it because they need one more credit hour to either make full time (for financial aid purposes) or to graduate. As part of the course, they are required to do a final project, which is a critical analysis of five separate websites on a topic of their choice.

After several semesters of teaching the course, I created a list of topics that were banned.  Half of the students had picked from that “list” (which didn’t exist at the time) and done their projects on the same topics, over and over.  None of them were cheating, but I got really tired of reading projects on topics that were so overused and that had no interest to me.  So I created my banned topic list and asked them to get creative and pick something else.

As an instructor, I appreciate it when a student is creative and wants to do a project on something completely different.  I was just saying that to a student who came to the reference area for help a bit ago.  She was looking for information on a particular artist, a contemporary artist. She had the picture that she is analyzing with her, which she had found in a book at home. It wasn’t anyone I had heard of, but I did a search, and got 21 hits from our library databases. It should give the student enough information to work with.  She was concerned because there was not floods of information available, but I told her to persevere, because her instructor would appreciate not having to read another paper about Van Gogh.  She laughed, and said that yes, the instructor had already expressed interest in her choice.

As instructors, we try to be 100% impartial, but the truth is (and I know it’s not just me) that after the fifth or sixth paper on drug abuse, or abortion, or the effect of divorce on children, or ADHD, my eyes tend to glaze over.  If I’m aggravated by having to read the same thing over and over, my grading will probably show it.  If I ban the topics that make me groan, then I won’t be prone to topic prejudice and the possible effect of that on my grading.

We tell the students to pick topics that they are passionate about, and maybe they are, but it seems that for those tired topics, the passion doesn’t come through. So if we try to get them to think about something else that interests them, maybe they’ll make some new discoveries that they wouldn’t have otherwise.


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