Helping your child to research online

by | Aug 26, 2018

A while ago, I was assisting my son to do some research online. I would love to say he was cooperative, but that wasn’t quite how it played out. I asked him to show me the topic he was researching, in this case a biography.

I looked on the learning management system for the task scaffolding and my son simply had to look for what information was required for each paragraph and find the research. Simple enough I thought – not this time – in my case, my son didn’t want to look beyond webpage one, let alone actually read what was on the page.

So, what do we as parents of school students need to know about the research our kids do?

Research today is different – but the principles of research haven’t changed.

I remember an assignment that I did at university in my History of Theatre subject. It is a fond memory because I did so well at it and followed the research methodology better than I had with most other assignments.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I gathered about 10 books from the university library that either covered my subject in depth or had some vague reference to it.
  2. I opened each book, looked at the contents and index pages first and then bookmarked the relevant pages.
  3. I transcribed relevant notes and quotes into a notebook and wrote the reference details for each book at the top of the notes for each book.
  4. I looked through my notes and thought about the ideas and concepts I had noted then checked my task sheet to see how I should collate the notes together into the essay.
  5. I began writing my task and then adding quotes and so on into the body of my essay as I made my points.
  6. After writing a rough copy of my assignment – I typed it onto the computer and printed out my final copy for handing to my lecturer.

This methodology can be applied to the research our children do in a digital space. It does involve being organised and it doesn’t hurt to actually have them take notes on paper.

I believe that the process of writing out the information assisted me in recalling it later when I was constructing my essay. A copy and paste (unfortunately all too common) of a reference doesn’t help with recall or deeper processing of the information.

So, what would I do today if I had the incredible access to resources that my children have?

  1. Search specifically for my topic on a number of search engines (not just Google) using a select group of keywords from my task sheet
  2. Scan the links that are presented from the search engine for relevance – this may involve going further than page 1 of the search results
  3. Click the links to explore the content of the relevant web pages and identify the legitimacy of the article – if good, take some notes and reference the page with a reference generator.
  4. A useful tip for skimming documents is to use the “Find” function of your device (Command – F on the laptop and the share icon on an iPad). By using this feature you save yourself a lot of time if you are looking for a particular term in a document.
  5. At this point I would have created a document where I am collecting all my notes and references to make it easier when I compile the assignment. Some also use tools like Evernote or Apple’s Notes app which continues to become better each year.
  6. I would check the task sheet for how to format the information and what is required – perhaps even search for some tips online for constructing a great essay
  7. Begin typing in my own words and then adding the research and referencing it as I go
  8. Printing my assignment and then after reading it myself, handing it to someone to read it – I tell my students not to ask the proofreader, “Is it good?” but to ask the question “How do you think I need to improve?”
  9. Once I’ve had feedback I would then edit my assignment and then submit it via the online and offline methods instructed by my teacher

That’s generally how I would do it – if you would like further in-depth detail on research skills, have a look at this article from Lifewire – How Proper Online Research Works.

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