I decided to explain in more details how I structure my research projects with my students because as I was replying to comments made by Joao and Gabriela, I realized that posting a comment explaining this exercise in details would not be enough.
My students work on their projects for about 7 - 8 weeks. I give them a framework in which I outline the purpose and learning objectives of this exercise, the timeline, traditional and online tools to be used, expectations, and evaluations. This framework serves as a skeleton which students use to navigate their knowledge building. I do not, however, select the topics for my students, nor do I ask, as I have seen some teachers do, the whole class to focus on one topic. I emphasize that students should choose topics they are interested in and not topics that they think 1. are easy to research or 2. teachers want them to choose. Keep in mind though that I am working with adults (19 - 25 years old) who are university students or are about to become university students. I do review and approve these topics as some of them might be too trivial or too narrow to do research on. It's really up to the student, however, what they want to investigate and what they want to become experts on. I do emphasize the word EXPERTS - they work on these projects to become the leading specialists in the field (very motivating and empowering, as you may have guessed).
Over the several weeks that I spend with my students, they engage in using various traditional and more unconventional tools in their knowledge collection. Since reading, summarizing, and paraphrasing skills are the key learning outcomes, students engage in collecting articles from various sources on their research topic. I introduce them to library database, Google Alerts, and Google Scholar, but they are free to find their articles anywhere. Every week, they present the findings on their topic to the class (in-class assignments) or on their blogs. I have done it in different ways, so it's up to one's imagination really.
We use blogs as research journals. In the first week, students set up blogs which they later use to summarize and critique news articles or listening material. In regards to listening material, I introduce them to university lecture podcasts (many American universities have put their lectures online and UC Berkely put its lectures on GoogleVideo) as well as other less academic sites such as Absolutely Intercultural. They are also required to find a video on UTube on their topic, post it on their blog, and summarize or critique it. This has worked well and they all have enjoyed doing it.
We use Flickr to collect images and 43Trio (occasionally) to see what others say on the topics of people, travelling, or one's goals. Flickr has worked out well although there are some issues in regards to copyrights that I need to incorporate into my exercises. 43Trio is less useful as a information gathering site mostly because of navigation problem (we spend a lot of time learning how to use it) and because it rarely matches my students' topics.
In a nut shell, the students use all of these tools (academic and non-academic resources) to go from a limited knowledge base on a particular topic (they may know it well in their first language but not in their second language) to becoming experts in that particular field. It's really a scaffolding process in which they become authorities. I purposely de-emphasize the pure academic approach to researching (library books) because I think we have gone beyond the traditional typographical discourse with the online presence and access to information that we have now (e.g. when I need to know something my first instinct is to google it and not to go to the library). I also try to include a variety of tools and information sources so that students become 1. connect (or see the connection between) the academic world with the reality, 2. become more resourceful and creative in their approach to learning, 3. become proficient with various online information gathering applications, 4. collect information in a variety of medium (text, video, image, voice) - become multiliterate (I would also argue that they are growing up multiliterate but when they go to school their multiliterate identities are discouraged with heavy emphasis on text).
The students present their projects at the end of the term in a written form and orally. I haven't figured out how to make it more multimodal yet (podcasts, VoiceThread, etc.) but I am working on it.
There are several challenges to this project-based research approach, but that's a topic for a different post.