The three legs of research

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As promised in my last post, Hang on…, here is a two-minute take on Ken Vesey’s “three legs of research.” It’s an analogy that works, especially when we try to wean students away from internet-only research, when we get them to demonstrate use of a wide range of sources.

Picture the milking stool. It’s a three-legged piece of furniture, and it’s been around for thousands of years.  Just imagine an 8-year old girl… it’s four o’clock in the morning, it’s dark outside, the girl is asleep, the cow she is milking is asleep, swaying from side-to-side, occasionally knocking into the girl as she milks away…  The girl does not fall off her milking stool because a milking stool has three legs.  Three legs make for a stable form of furniture, it is very difficult to knock it over. It’s better than furniture with one leg or two legs, and it’s better than four legs or five legs or six or .. It has stood the test of time.

Three legs are good, three legs are stable. Think about the modern camera, many many thousands of dollars worth of equipment.  Photographers and movie-makers put them on three-legged tripods. They trust their expensive to a three-legged piece of equipment, because three legs are stable.

It’s the same with research. Research based on three legs makes for stable research… the internet, yes, especially good for up-to-date information; newspapers and magazines and journals, good for contemporary reports and for concise records; books for deeper and considered accounts.  Internet, periodicals, books, all worth using. Three legs of research.

IB examiners think so too.  There are many extended essay examiner reports which complain that too many students rely on just one type of source – usually internet – and they don’t give – or get – a broad or in-depth view of their subject. Too many reports, year after year, subject after subject.

There are many many reasons for retaining books. The notion of three-legged research is just one of them.  A powerful one.

And once again, thank you, Ken.

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