This post serves to report my findings of the Information Learning Activity (ILA) run in a Year 7 Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) class which focused on Multiculturalism. Specifically, students were asked to select a country to study. Follow this link to the Task and Criteria Sheet and this link to the Questionnaires administered to the students.
What did students know about the countries they chose?
Students were asked to identify what they already knew about their country at the commencement of the unit and these responses were coded in accordance with the Scoring Sheets supplied in the SLIM Toolkit. Responses were coded as either statements of fact, how or why explanations, or conclusion statements which represent movement on behalf of the student away from pure explanation and includes elements of evaluation or reflection.
For this first question, one student supplied a statement, which I considered explanatory, and another supplied a conclusion. The other students provided only factual statements (see Figure 1, below). However, there were a greater number of factual statements
recorded on the second survey. On average 2.9 factual statements were supplied per student on the first survey, this increasing to 3.3 factual statements supplied in the second. Here, it must be noted that the very nature of the ILA is factual. Students were required to supply specific information about a country of their choice. The task specifically focused on lower-order thinking skills. Students were asked to complete a fact-finding exercise, therefore, as Limberg (2000, p. 198) suggests, it should not prove surprising when results such as those which appear above, reveal that they did not reach a richer understanding of their chosen country.
A further explanation for these results may lie in the very nature of this first question. Students were asked to write down what they knew about the country they had chosen to investigate. This may invite students to list facts.
I had used Kuhlthau’s (2007) Guided Inquiry Model to structure their lessons. During each lesson, I would step them through a stage of the process. At the Formulation Stage, I provided them with a resource that asked them to indicate if they would travel to their chosen country and provide five reasons why/why not. 83% of students indicated they would like to travel to their chosen country (see Figure 2, below). Students were asked to
supply five reasons for their answers. On average, each student supplied 4.4 factual statements. Across the class, a total of nine conclusions drawn (see Figure 3, below).
Setting students a specific target number of responses may assist in increasing the number of reflective points made for each question, although the responses were still predominantly factual (see Figure 4, below for a sample of Factual on the left and Conclusion responses on the right). Had more time been available, it would have been
informative to drill down into the motivations underpinning the expression of factual reasons. Indeed, the student who identified snow as a reason may have done so because he values a unique experience. This silence is a function of the blunt nature of a questionnaire and convinces me that a revision of my data collection method could yield richer, more accurate data about my students’ capacity and/or inclination to offer what the SLIM resource (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2012) (Murphy, 1997) classifies as high-order conclusions.
How interested were students in the topic?
From the outset, there appeared to be little interest in the topic (see Figure 5, below).
Clearly, the topic did not capture the students’enthusiasm. However, a number of students I did talk to were clearly excited about their country. Each student, in every class, had to select a different country. Some countries were more popular than others, for example, Italy, France and Greece. Those students – 24% of the group (see Figure 6, below) – who were asked to reselect a country because it had already been chosen were
very disappointed. Selection of an inquiry topic is pivotal to student engagement and indeed in this case, although perhaps not the only reason for the initial lack of enthusiasm, should clearly be considered a contributing factor. Jonassen (in Murphy, 1997) identifies the provision of learner control as a central concept to constructivist design, teaching and learning. Without this degree of control, student motivation and application may be eroded. Also of significance is the further decline in the lack of interest at the close of the unit (see Figure 7, below). In fact, 64% of respondents’ interest declined, whilst only 8%
increased in interest. Each student, who reported that their interest had increased, had studied their first country of choice. However, 24% of the students whose interest declined (see Figure 8, below) did not study their country of their choice, rather their second, third and sometimes their fourth preference.
Students measure what they know of their topic
In the Initial stages of the ILA, there was little variation between the number of respondents who knew Quite a Bit, Not Much and Nothing at All about their country (see Figure 9, below). Interestingly, a little over half the class still felt they knew little about their country
at the end of the unit (see Figure 9, above). This, however, may be related to their increased expectations regarding their understanding and knowledge after having conducted their investigations; sometimes when students commence researching, the abundance of information on their topic highlights how little they actually did know. In fact, Kuhlthau et al. (2007, p. 17) flag that this “information often initially increases the sense of uncertainty” which may explain these results.
However, Kuhlthau et al. (2007) identify this uncertainty should exist during the exploration phase (see Kuhlthau et al.’s (2007) Model of the Information Search Process, below) rather
than at the Assessment phase, which is when this second questionnaire was administered. For this group of students, perhaps this raises questions regarding their progression through the search process. Perhaps, time did not permit these students to cycle through the formulation and collection stages. Indeed, a number of students noted they felt they did not have enough time to complete the task at school and at home. Many also noted that time management was an issue (see Figure 10, below) which may well have impacted on their progression through their information search process and therefore their perceived level of knowledge about their country.
Further, Limberg (2000) would argue that there exists a clear correlation between a student’s learning outcomes and the information search process when she reports that students with a fact-finding approach do have limited learning outcomes whereas students who scrutinised and analysed the data they collected had more sophisticated learning outcomes. Here, one could conclude that the nature of the ILA, which focused on lower-order thinking skills prevented students from developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of their chosen country.
What did students find easy about research?
Students were asked to identify what they found easy when researching at both the commencement and at the conclusion of the ILA. The SLIM toolkit supplies guidance in the coding of such responses against the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Information Literacy Standards, however, given that these standards were formulated in 1998 the current AASL (2007) Standards for the 21st Century Learner were deemed more relevant. The top responses were classified according to these standards and they appear beside each of the figures.
The following chart (Figure 11) represents the standards relating to research students felt
they found easiest to achieve before they commenced the ILA. Interestingly, at the conclusion of the ILA students identified three new skills as easy (see Figure 12, below).
Significantly, the number of students who felt it was easy to “use technology tools for accessing information and pursuing inquiry” as well as “organise knowledge so that it is useful” doubled by the conclusion of the ILA. Further, the final survey reveals three of the recognised skills involve the use of technology, whereas in the initial survey only one skill was identified which related to the use of technology. This could be the result of the students’ engagement with a new technology tool: the wiki. Interestingly, the focus on this Web 2.0 tool, which was new for most of these students, proved troublesome for half the group.
What did students find difficult about research?
Based on their original assessments, the stand-out aspects of research technique students found difficult included the use of technology to organise their information along with their skills to find and evaluate information which is reliable and relevant. Technology continued to prove problematic throughout the unit. Numerous students recorded that they experienced difficulty at school, and on occasion at home, logging on to computers and accessing the internet (see Figure 13, below). Certainly, at the school site band width had been an ongoing issue and one which was resolved during the term break.
The ILA involved the students constructing a wiki on the school’s Learning Management System (LMS). I did observe, nearing the end of the unit that numerous students were struggling with this new mode of presentation. In particular they were having difficulty with copying their Word documents into the LMS; images were not uploading correctly and the format they had adopted in Word was not transferring to the new platform. This would explain the increased results for “Use technology to organise and display knowledge”.
However, after the completion of the unit, students reported improvement in their ability to find and evaluate sources of information. When one considers Figure 11 alongside Figure 14 (Questionnaire 1) one could conclude that half the students found the retrieval of useful
information easy and the other half found this difficult. By the end of the unit, though, students felt comfortable in acknowledging that they found searching for information and finding reliable information a lot easier. The Google Search Strategy lessons may have assisted here.
What did students learn about research during this process?
One student’s response to the final question on the second questionnaire (see Figure 15, below), expressed what teachers hope for at the culmination of any unit …
Unfortunately, this particular student did not feel inclined to elaborate on exactly what it was he did learn.
Four themes, however, did emerge from this final question on the second questionnaire: new ways to Google, time management, note-taking skills and how to research better. Figure 16, below, illustrates one student’s response which included three of these themes:
What was fascinating was that I had taken the students for each library lesson and I had spent a good deal of this time detailing for them the various stages of the inquiry process. Only one student identified this as an area of learning for this research task (see Figure 17, below):
I can only surmise as to the reasons for such a limited response. Again, this points to the need for a triangulation of observation, questioning and interviews. I did have to compress the coverage of three of the latter stages into the one lesson. This was not an ideal situation but I found that circumstance and the limited contact time I have with the students did necessitate this coverage. I did team teach on a number of occasions with the SOSE teacher but these lessons were specifically on search strategies. My compression of their Information Search Process in class may well have also had an effect on their measurement of the knowledge they had acquired on their country (See the previous section: Students measure what they know of their topic).
What do students enjoy about research assignments?
I added an additional question to the final questionnaire: What are the characteristics of research assignments you enjoy? One characteristic, in particular emerged; that is, finishing the assignment and the relief this brings (see Figure 18, below):
These obvious reflections of relief at the conclusion of this assessment are not identified by Kuhlthau et al. (2007) Model of the Information Search Process (see Figure 19, below) and students were not asked if they were satisfied or disappointed with their final product. However, I can’t help thinking that whatever their assessment of their product may have been, this overwhelming sense of relief and finality may overshadow any self-assessment of their achievements.
On reflection, a number of important issues have emerged from the analysis and interpretation of these data:
- the fact-finding nature of the ILA;
- the need to employ time management techniques to allow students to cycle through this Information Search Process; and
- the importance of information literacy skills for successful inquiry.
American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Retrieved from American Association of School Libraries: http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf
Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). The Theory and Research Basis for guided Inquiry. In C. C. Kuhlthau, L. K. Maniotes, & A. K. Caspari, Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (pp. 13-28). Wesport: Libraries Unlimited.
Limberg, L. (2000). Is there a Relationship Between Information Seeking and Learning Outcomes. In C. Bruce, & P. Candy, Information Literacy Around the World: Advances in Programs and Research (pp. 193-207). Wagga Wagga: CIS, Charles Sturt University.
Murphy, E. (1997). Characteristics of Constructivist Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from: http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/stemnet/cle3.html
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. (2012). Impact Studies – SLIM. Retrieved from Rutgers School of Communication and Information: http://cissl.rutgers.edu/joomla-license/impact-studies/57-impact-studies-slim