Teaching students to find and read scientific articles

A couple of years ago I came to the conclusion that teaching biology implies that we need to give a chance to our students to learn how to find information in the scientific literature, i.e. they should learn to find and read scientific articles. Interestingly, it has been noted that Article analysis is a good approach to teach biology (1) and to learn research methods (2-3). I have therefore decided to include these in the learning outcomes of my courses. Of course many colleagues are doing the same and have even published about it (4-7). Below are a few documents produced and results obtained in that framework.

One of the first things we thought of was to monitor the use of tools that can be used to find, read and use articles. The students have been asked after the first semester, during first and second year, whether they knew and used a series of tools:

 This questionnaire has been proposed in 2019 and 2020 such that one cohort responded in the first (2019) and second (2020) year. The first observation is that they know and use more of the tools in second compared to first year. This might indicate that we contribute to help them learn about those tools.

Another aspect of this work is to test directly their capacity to read scientific articles. This is done in our case through exams during which the students need to perform an article analysis. This year the subject has been modified to allow giving one article per student.

Finally comes the need to help them to find relevant articles to answer a given question. At first they were just given a few questions but looking at their essay showed that we needed to be more explicit. We therefore developed a new document, derived from the previous one, that forces them to give more details on their strategies and on the tools used.


PS: If you want to help, one way would be to fill this form.

1. Djamahar, R., Ristanto, R. H., Sartono, N., Ichsan, I. Z., & Muhlisin, A. (2018). Cirsa: designing instructional kits to empower 21st century skill. Educational Process: International Journal, 7(3), 200-208. 

2. Bachiochi, P., Everton, W., Evans, M., Fugere, M., Escoto, C., Letterman, M., & Leszczynski, J. (2011). Using empirical article analysis to assess research methods courses. Teaching of Psychology, 38(1), 5-9

3. Dawn, S., Dominguez, K. D., Troutman, W. G., Bond, R., & Cone, C. (2011). Instructional scaffolding to improve students’ skills in evaluating clinical literature. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 75(4).

4. MSG, S. A., Deon Batchelder, M. A., CMC, G., Therese ten Brinke, M. A., Hieb, B., & Jennifer Marlette, M. S. N. (2019). Gerontology 131-Minors Capstone Practicum Syllabus and Workbook. 

5. Allen, K. (2007). English 1102 assignments: article analysis, expository essay, and argumentative essay. English 1101/1102 Research Assignments, 1. 

6. Guidelines, rubric & tip sheet. Harris, M. J. (2006). Three steps to teaching abstract and critique writing. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 17(2), 136-146.

7. In- Class Analysis of Research Articles and Short Literature Review more on literature review TEXTS, I. C. (2009). ST. CATHERINE UNIVERSITY/THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK–MSW PROGRAM SYLLABUS.

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