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Using Research Articles in Teaching

Presented here are 10 suggestions for using primary research articles with students. The first eight of these suggestions were taken from Incorporating Primary Literature Into Science Learning, by Brian Rybarczyk in Handbook of College Science Teaching, Joel J. Mintzes & William H. Leonard Eds. Arlington, VA NSTA Press. 2006


 Ask students to perform data analysis in small groups: Each group analyzes one figure, graph, or table from a journal article and discusses the content with their peers. The students communicate their observations and generate conclusions from the data. The instructor can omit the accompanying figure legends so that the students practice describing the data. Once all groups analyze the assigned figures, each group presents the data, the class discusses the observations together, and students create overall conclusions from the complete data set.


 Omit the title of the journal article: After a complete analysis of the article, students create a title that appropriately describes the main point(s) of the article. Instructors can provide titles from other articles as examples.


 Omit the abstract of the article: Instructors provide the students with only the figures and tables. After data analysis, students write an abstract that summarizes the paper based on the figures alone.


 Provide conflicting data sets from different research studies that address the same research question: Students hypothesize reasons for the conflicting results, generate explanations to rectify the differences, and discuss the implications of conflicting data in the scientific community.


 Ask students to investigate experimental methods: From a written description of experimental methods, students diagram the procedures in a flowchart and indicate expected results at each step in the procedure. This approach is ideally suited for laboratory-based courses.


 Ask students to interpret text explanations of results: From a written description of experimental results, students draw graphs and charts of the experimental results in visual form.


 Incorporate articles found in science news journals such as The Scientist and New Scientist: The types of articles found in these journals typically integrate bodies of research based on multiple primary literature articles and could serve as an introduction to a body of research.


 Ask students to perform data manipulation: With the call for data sharing in the scientific community, journals now encourage or require authors to make their data freely accessible via web pages or deposit them in locally managed or national databases (e.g., the National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nih.gov). Examples of available biological data include gene expression quantification from microarray analyses, DNA and protein sequences generated from experiments, and protein structure information. Some learning modules have already been created based on original data from primary literature, allowing students to manipulate real experimental data (see http://bioquest.org/bedrock). Using the internet, students can access the data and recreate the experiments, formulate new hypotheses and research questions, test alternative hypotheses, and draw novel conclusions.


 Concept maps: Using concept mapping software, such as Inspiration, have students construct concept maps that illustrate the relationships between the content of research articles and concepts presented in the classroom and textbook. Students could also portray the connections between different studies. To see an example of robust concept map of visit the NSDL Science Literacy Map .


 Internal References/Works Citing: Have students examine samples of papers cited in and by the keynote papers included in Classic Articles and Timely Teaching and write brief accounts on the way(s) in which the earlier works impacted on the later ones.


  • Image of an equation from the course Classical Mechanics II, Fall 2004, as shown on a chalkboard in a classroom at MIT. Image by Prof. Boleslaw Wyslouch under Creative Commons License. MIT OpenCourseWare.