I teach quite a few 'unprepared' students and I find they struggle with finding source material on which to base their reports. Basically, they need to read a lot and apply theories to different companies.

Where should I draw the line when giving them advice? I certainly do not do any searching or reading/filtering for them but if they choose a company and need to report on it, is it acceptable to give them some ideas about famous events at that company which might have happened a decade ago (or more but would still be acceptable for the purposes of the report)? Or, should I require them to do search, even for old events, and if they can't, then they can't and fail?

2 Answers 2


The purpose of teaching, which includes both your lectures, later guidance on their projects and also includes evaluation, is for them to learn new skills. So, the question you should ask yourself is: what skills do I want them to learn, and how do I achieve that best?

Typically, it seems to me that (if you have enough time for it), it is very important to teach them not only to read, filter and digest information, but also to search for it (Information Age and all). So, you might want to make “searching for relevant information” a required skill. But that doesn't mean you should help them acquire it. In fact, you probably should:

  • advertise it as an important part of what they are expected to learn
  • help them learn it, i.e. show them how it's done
  • evaluate them based on their performance

However… even if you do all that, it still doesn't mean you can't help them if they miss something. After all, if you are teaching them how to best look for information, they might realize it's a good idea to come to the expert they know in that particular field… you, their teacher. So, maybe they will come asking

here are the relevant events I found about X in the archives… do you think I missed something?

or even:

I see a spike in the data around the fall of 1974, and I have searched but couldn't find any event possibly related to that company, do you know of anything that might explain it?

in which cases you might want to answer them, if it seems they did their due diligence.

  • 1
    +1: Good answer, I especially like the 3-point approach to teaching: 1) clarify expectations, 2) give examples/demonstrate, and 3) evaluate.
    – posdef
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 12:14
  • 6
    The goal of education ultimately needs to be to teach people how to learn on their own; a graduate student who receives a PhD but can't become proficient in a field they haven't been active in as a graduate student has not been properly equipped for the real-world challenges of being a researcher.
    – aeismail
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 21:02

I think the problem most students are facing is too much information on the net.

For example, if your assignment for them is to figure out the Impact of 2008 financial crisis to GM.

If they google for "2008 financial crisis GM", they would get about 4,030,000 results.

The first one on the list is, Scholarly articles for financial crisis 2008 GM. If you click on that, you get 300,200 results. Do you expect them to read through all of them? I don't believe so.

I believe most undergrad student today do know how to search. But, they may have trouble with filtering them out because of the large volume of info they get on Internet.

In order to help them, you need to figure out how much time it would take them to find the info you want them to find, assuming they would do the search themselves.

In other words, you need to do the homework first. Pretend you know nothing about the subject. Search on the net. Find the info yourself. If you can do it in a reasonable time, then you can expect them to do it.

Using the example above, I cannot find the document you want me to find in a reasonable time frame unless you tell me specificly what you are after.

The line you want really depends on the assignment and student's willingness to learn. I don't think typing keywords is a problem, how to choose keywords and what to do after the search are what's troubling them.

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