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(Photo © 2016 Knowledge Growers, Inc.)

By Howard Iver Thorsheim, Ph.D., St. Olaf College

I have titled this blog “Thinking As Scientists Think.” A more accurate—but longer—description might be “Helping Students Learn Skills to Think As Scientists Think—Information Literacy Skills.” I have found it effective to help students learn two levels of skill development that will help them think as scientists think: (a) information literacy skills to learn about the skills, which is the focus of this blog, and (b) empirical research skills to do the skills they have learned about (discussed in this post, building on Biopac Student Lab lessons).

I partner with a librarian colleague to develop and provide an initial 45-minute information literacy skills session on how to use available databases to locate information. I provide a selected list of research skills to guide their search. Teams decide exactly what they read online about each listed skill, so information each team locates may be unique, though the skills searched are the same. They discover that they know that they know how to find information, which increases their sense of competency, and is self-reinforcing.

You can select your own list of research skills you wish students to learn about, to fit your own teaching/learning goals and schedule. The following are some examples from my skills list for introducing psychophysiology in courses:

  1. strategy for using information literacy skills;
  2. using a consultant (in this case it is me, their teacher);
  3. forming research questions;
  4. psychophysiology methods;
  5. operationalization of variables;
  6. psychophysiological measurement;
  7. adhering to research ethics;
  8. statistical analysis in psychophysiology (selecting methods appropriate from their course background ranging from descriptive to more sophisticated statistics);
  9. writing following the format of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, and
  10. oral presentation skills (e.g., tips for presenting their summaries that will help them be excellent peer-mentors).

The genuine research skills students learn support your course goals and engage students in science, contribute to national STEM goals, and add to a student’s thinking toolkit. Students can annotate their team-based information-literacy searches and can include that in a cumulative personal skill inventory, useful for skill-based résumés for assistantships, jobs, and graduate applications.

Here are two helpful resources on the usefulness of helping students develop genuine research-oriented skills and begin using them:

Jenkins, A. & Healey, M. (2010). Undergraduate research and international initiatives to link teaching and research. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 30(3), 36-42.

Mervis, J. (2016). Genuine research keeps students in science. Science, 352(6291), 1266.
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6291.1266

Learn more about BIOPAC’s education solutions, including complete teaching systems for psychophysiology and the life sciences. BIOPAC also provides a wide range of research systems for recording, displaying, classifying, and analyzing psychophysiological measurements.

BIOPAC Systems, Inc. provides life science researchers and educators with data acquisition and analysis systems that inspire people and enable greater discovery about life. Visit us at

Professor Thorsheim is a licensed Psychologist, educator, and author. He has published or presented over 125 papers, journal articles, books, book chapters or monographs, and received a patent in 1985 as a co-inventor for an educational book design with interactive elements. His work has been funded by marquee foundations across the globe. His most recent work is Doing Psychophysiology: Getting Started, available from Knowledge Growers, Inc., available as an iBook download in 51 countries.

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