10 creative alternatives to research reports and papers

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, November 9, 2015

10 creative alternatives to research reports and papers

Research reports and papers have been around a long time. They haven't evolved much. Here are 10 ways to make them more relevant. (Flickr / Nic McPhee)

Research reports and papers have been around a long time. They haven’t evolved much. Here are 10 ways to make them more relevant. (Flickr / Nic McPhee)

In high school and college, I suffered through quite a few research reports and papers. I gathered data, cited sources, followed MLA style and double spaced.

I turned in my papers. Then I never did anything else with them.

I still have one political science paper I wrote hiding out in a trunk full of papers in my basement. The rest have been pitched in the “cylindrical file”, never to be seen again.

The merits of doing research and creating these reports and papers are valid. When they create them, students …

  • Gather information
  • Evaluate sources
  • Organize and synthesize data
  • Form ideas and cohesive thoughts
  • Create a polished, finished product
  • Cite where they got their information

Here’s the problem, though: the finished product just isn’t very relevant to the real world, be it in the workforce or in people’s personal lives.

Reports and papers often end up where mine always did — in the trash.

If students are going to do their best work to learn and create, shouldn’t it be in a form they can be proud of — and that they want to show others?

I think it’s time that we turn research reports and papers on their heads. Here are 10 creative alternatives:

1. Websites. By making a free website using tools like Weebly and Google Sites, students are much more likely to attract eyeballs to their work. Websites can be shared easily, and they live on when people stumble upon them through Google searches. When students publish their work to a website, they’re creating a positive digital footprint as well.

2. Infographics. Have you seen those super long infographics that you have to scroll down through to see all the information? They’re all over Pinterest and other social media. Here are two great tools that will help your students create them:

  • Piktochart can turn a report or paper into a flashy eye-catching visual. Start with a predesigned template or use the graphics, text and other goodies to create your own from scratch. (Here’s a post I wrote with 20 ways to create classroom pizzazz in class with Piktochart.)
  • Canva provides a drag-and-drop interface that students can use create beautiful designs. Start with a perfectly-sized infographic template and add the text and visuals you want. Then save them as image files for the web or in PDF format for sharing and printing.

3. Google Drawings interactive posters. Gathering lots of information for a report or paper onto a poster board might be impossible (or require teeny tiny text!). A Google Drawings interactive poster (see post on this here) fits the in-depth research genre better because it can be a jumping off point for more information. Use a Google Drawing to present some visuals. Then, create links from that poster to Google Docs or other resources that provide more information about the topic. Be sure to use a live hyperlink (Ctrl+K is the keyboard shortcut) to get readers where they want to go.

4. Linked YouTube videos. Researchers gather information and present it in video format in front of an audience of millions every day. It’s called television news. Students can create short videos on the different segments of their report or paper. Then, they can upload them to YouTube and link them together using annotations. It becomes an interactive video version of their reports. See this example I did with a post I wrote on Google Classroom.

5. ThingLinks. ThingLink lets students create clickable hotspots on an image. Students use an image (either use a pre-existing one, an information-based one like a map or a chart, or create one with a tool like Google Drawings or PicMonkey). Then, they add clickable dots to important parts of that image. Those clickable dots can take readers to sources already existing on the Web or to Google Docs or other sources created by students. See ThingLink’s website for examples of how this awesome tool works.

6. Radio shows. Programs like “This American Life” and other audio documentaries do a phenomenal job of creating long-form stories and journalistic presentations in an engaging way. With some planning, students could record a compelling podcast/radio show presentation about their content. They could add interviews, sound effects, background audio from a site like a restaurant or a bus station, etc. Use tools like Audioboom (upload audio so others can listen to it) and Audacity / Garage Band (for mixing audio). Can be simple or complex.

7. News broadcast. In No. 4 above, we used short video clips to create an interactive video presentation. But news broadcasts generally aren’t very interactive. Students could create a news show, blending video, images, sound and effects together using a tool like WeVideo or Camtasia Studio. It could be uploaded to a class YouTube channel where others could watch.

8. Info/image slide show. The “Did You Know?/Shift Happens” videos created by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod have been viewed millions of times on YouTube. They’ve taught us about rapid changes happening globally, and we willingly watched because they were engaging. These text-based slideshow videos can be very popular, and students can create them with YouTube’s photo slideshow tool or Animoto (free for educators).

9. Aurasma aura poster. This one actually utilizes poster board, but it’s so much more than the standard poster. With Aurasma (an iPad app), students can create auras. An aura is a video or image that displays over something in real life when you look at it through the camera in the Aurasma app. (Here’s an example of how it works.) Students can create auras for different images on their posters. When the viewer scans the images with the Aurasma app, it displays videos or images with more information.

10. Google Slides slide book. I’m all for ditching textbooks, and this is a great way to do that. Instead of using a standard textbook, students can show their understanding by creating an interactive, engaging one! In place of reports and papers, students could create a slide book like this one (created by Matt Macfarlane, a teacher who provides this to his students). Notice the images, links to sites and embedded videos.

[reminder]How else could we improve on research reports and papers? Which of these are you most likely to use?[/reminder]

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  • John Bennett says:

    Here’s my thinking on your excellent suggestion:

    The ‘conventional’ report is the routine – typically (as you list) required to follow a prescribed list of rules. When you add these rules to the very frequent last-minute writing of the report, that report is rarely more than a very boring document emphasizing the easier sections documenting effort and minimizing the sections requiring true considerations. Your list of the ten options tests the understanding gained both in terms of what’s ‘displayed’ and how that’s done, as well as how questions more likely to be forthcoming are answered.

    Two other thoughts: First, student-control of topic choices will improve (or should) the student motivation for efforts made. Second, it’s a good idea to do both the report and an option from your list – with the expectation that they will be very compatible (the report then detailing more for interested people that engaged in one of your options, documenting those details).

    • Matt Miller says:

      THAT may be the best of both worlds, John — pair a well crafted conventional report with a more modern product detailing the research in a new medium. Love it … thanks!

  • LOVING this idea!! We do a standard “Research & Oral Assessment” project in every grade 5-11, and I’m hoping my supervisor will give me the go-ahead to change things up this year! LOVING the idea of having students decide the presentation medium and KNOW that they will find the task a lot less “daunting” when they’re having fun creating their product.

  • […] The third ISTE Student Standard focuses on Research and Information Fluency. There are multiple methods and tools available to facilitate assignments and projects that require students to “apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.”  ASCD recently published the article Research Untethered  that addresses multiple phases of the research process and how mobile devices can be used to support inquiry.  Rather than start my own list of resources, Mrs. McDaniel has already curated many digital resources and tools in the OTMS Library HomeDoc including access information for EBSCO Host and a link to the OTMS Research Home Doc.  Mid-Continent Public Library also provides many research databases that provide reviewed research material.  These are valuable guides for locating digital resources that are available to OTMS staff and students.  Edudemic recently published an article with suggestions to help students become better online researchers.  If you are looking for a few alternatives to the traditional research paper, there are few ideas shared in this blog post. […]

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