To the Editor:
During the past few years, the practice of asking high school students to interview experts in connection with school projects has become commonplace. I am an academic psychologist who studies adolescent development. In a typical week, I receive multiple requests from students who are writing papers on the topic. The emails I receive from students are always courteous, and many are thoughtful. But given their number, it is simply not possible to respond to all of these students’ inquiries with the care they deserve.
I also question the value of these sorts of assignments. Interviewing an expert is journalism, not research. Students need to learn how to locate and read original sources for research projects. Yet, I have not received a single email inquiry from a high school student in which research papers, or even citations to papers, were requested. That is what students should be asking for. (In contrast, when I receive an inquiry from a high school journalist working on a story, I usually try to answer, just as I would respond to any serious journalist.)
Instead of encouraging students to take this sort of shortcut, teachers who wish to develop their students’ research skills should be instructing students on how to use the library and other sources of information. That is what they will be asked to do in college.
Professor of Psychology
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2012 edition of Education Week as Research Skills Need to Be Taught