Question 1 – Existing Knowledge
Students were asked to identify what they knew about their topic in each questionnaire, at three stages of the 6 week period. The student’s responses were grouped according to the results gathered from data analysis and assigned by the SLIM Toolkit into Fact, Explanation and Conclusion statements. Figure 1 demonstrates these results graphically. Also, for the sake of brevity, questionnaires 1, 2 and 3 will be referred to as Q1, Q2 and Q3.
As expected a higher recording of facts to explanation and conclusion was recorded in Q1 to Q3. There was also a significant increase in explanation statements from Q1 to Q3 which again is expected as students accumulate information. From mid-way until the conclusion of the task, the students were able to articulate and explain why things happened. There was however, not a concomitant increase in conclusion statements with only a few students drawing on higher order thinking and going beyond explanation statements.
Simple fact statements at Q1 for e.g. “My great great grandfather came from Germany. He came on a ship and landed in Adelaide”;
did become more sophisticated at Q3 where the same student has now included explanation and conclusion statements- “German people played a significant part in settlement in South Australia where they worked in the mines and farmed.”
In addition, some students came to the lesson with prior knowledge. For example, Chinese immigration has been covered in the previous year in learning about the Australian goldfields. They were therefore able to make explanation statements in Q1. For example “The Chinese came to Australia because gold had been discovered.”
While data recorded in other studies e.g. Kuhlthau et al (2008) report a steady increase in all 3 statements, this was not the case here. While fact statements dipped slightly at Q2, this wasn’t significant. Explanation statements did significantly increase over time while conclusion statements were few in comparison. Todd (2006) had a similar finding where “students seemed more oriented to gathering facts and accumulating these in an additive manner, rather than building complex, integrated and abstract knowledge representations (para. 1). This suggests what Donham, Heinrich & Bostwick (2010) have also found and Callison (1997) has postulated; these students have already formulated a mental model which defines how they undertake the research process. Therefore students believed the correct way to complete this project involved gathering as much information as possible, producing a poster and giving a presentation to the class. As a result, these students were unlikely to extend their thinking beyond this process to allow for more meaningful engagement of the topic and higher order thinking. The above Kuhlthau study on the other hand employed guided inquiry methods of instruction where students were explicitly instructed in the Information Search Process. This process model supports students cognitive ability to move from a topical understanding developed from factual information at the beginning of a project, to more analytical conceptualisations and higher order thinking at completion (Kuhlthau et al, 2008).
Question 2 – Interest in Topic
Except for Q1, not much interest was the predominant feeling when asked their feelings about the topic. 9 students in Q2 and Q3 said they had not much interest in the topic, compared to 6 students in Q1. 8 students showed quite a bit of interest in Q1, with 6 of the students indicating a great deal of interest. While a great deal of interest held steady at around 6 students per questionnaire, the other 14 students fluctuated between not much interest and quite a bit of interest in Q2 and Q3. All students indicated at least some interest in the topic.
While at the other end of the scale where a great deal of interest was shown, the gender was female. While girls are the majority of the cohort, these 5 or 6 girls were able to maintain interest because of their connection to the topic. These girls had chosen to investigate their immigrant past. It is possible finding one’s family tree has a gender bias.
It is also highly likely these girls occupy a place which Maniotes (in Kuhlthau, 2010) describes as the Third Space. The Third Space occupies the intersecting space between First and Second Space where First Space consists of the student’s world out of school and the Second Space the curriculum within school. The girls in this class are able to connect their world outside of school with the subject being researched inside of school and therefore create a more meaningful place for learning to happen. The boys in this class however have no such connection and consequently no real interest in investigating a particular migrant group and their contribution to Australian society.
The remaining 8 or so students fluctuated between quite a bit interested and not much. The drift towards the not interested indicates student dis-engagement with the topic. It may also be indicative of student ‘burn-out’ with the topic area. While one might have expected at least 1 student to indicate not at all interested, because this is a high-achieving class, it is perhaps no surprise. Admission to ‘not interested’ is possibly not a characteristic of this group.
Question 3 – How Much Do You Know About the Topic
All students indicated knowing at least something about the topic. In Q1, 8 students felt they knew not much and 8 students believed they knew quite a bit while 4 students felt they knew a great deal. In Q2 and Q3, student’s perceived knowledge did improve to quite a bit and a great deal with all but 1 student believing by the end of the ILA they had achieved quite a bit or a great deal of knowledge.
A student’s perception of their knowledge as increasing as they progress through the inquiry is what is expected and demonstrated in the research (Todd, 2006; Kuhlthau et al, 2008). Though more students indicate they perceive their knowledge as quite a bit, in Q2 and Q3, there is an overall move towards perception of higher knowledge acquisition. While it may have been expected that those students who had indicated not much interest in the topic and hadn’t selected their migrant group by the time they completed Q1, may know nothing about the topic, being high-achieving students might influence their decision to select at the very least, not much. Also in chatting with these students they indicated knowledge gained through a prior unit exploring the Australian goldfields.
Question 4 – What Do You Find Easy About Researching? Question 5 – What Do You Find Difficult About Researching?
In analyzing the responses from questions 4 and 5, I chose to group them under the following headings – information seeking, information synthesis and information use (see figures 4 & 5) I had intended on adding a fourth, use of ICT but overwhelmingly the responses indicated an ease of use of ICT within the confines of the task. Skill with ICT involved using the Internet and Microsoft Word. Both proficiencies have been previously acquired and therefore it seemed redundant to the current discussion.
In discussing information seeking, the student’s responses were quantified around whether they found finding relevant information, easy or difficult. It should be noted that students were given 3 URLs relevant to their chosen migrant group at the outset, to assist their research. When these URLs were insufficient for the student’s needs a number of students had difficulty searching for information. One search strategy observed, involved copying and pasting the task question with the home country of the chosen group, into the search box. Many of the students were therefore glad the teacher had given them the questions as according to them it made the task easier.
Overall, results indicated students found looking for information easy. When students were forced to deviate from the URLs they had been given and ‘think for themselves’ there is evidence of some difficulty, as shown in the data. “I’m not allowed to use Wikipedia which is annoying because I always use Wikipedia. I don’t know what else to use besides Google.”
In Q2 results show it was less easy and more difficult for some of the students. This can be expected as in the first 2-3 weeks was when information was being gathered. In Q3 some students retrospectively indicated finding information easier than they had when answering the same question in Q2. “I thought it was hard, but it really wasn’t that hard for me.”
In discussing information synthesis, the student’s responses were quantified around whether they found taking notes from the information they had gathered easy or hard and whether it was difficult putting the information they gathered into their own words, in answering the questions. Q2 results show the most difficulty at this stage of the process. Kuhlthau et al (2008) found it is at the mid-point of the task where students start to have conflicting feelings and start to feel overwhelmed and challenged. The most common difficulty for students was putting the information they found into their own words. A strategy of highlighting important information, copying to a word document and interpreting that information into their own words had been taught to them earlier in the year. However, many students found this difficult to do. “I just find it really hard. I don’t know what is the best information and just end up highlighting all of it.” It was at this point of the ILA where I observed students requiring the most help and asking for teacher assistance. In chatting with some of the students, I found parental assistance was also sought at this stage. Students had a due date for a draft to be completed at the end of week 4. After the teacher corrected, edited and made suggestions, students were required to fix any problems found with their draft before starting on their poster for class presentations.
In discussing information use, the students responses were quantified around difficulty of using the information in completing their historical inquiry booklet, creating a poster, making palm cards and presenting a 3 minute talk to the class. At Q1 results suggest students thought completing the booklet, making the poster and presenting to the class would be an easy task. At Q2 the difficulty of answering the questions and placing the answers into their own words became a problem for many of the students. By Q3 some student’s responses were directed towards the difficulty of presenting to the class a 3 minute presentation when they had so much information. “It was difficult trying to make my talk fit into 3 minutes. When I read out all my information it goes way over time.” However, other students reported this as the easiest part of the task. In asking why they thought this, the general consensus was that it was easy because all they had to do was copy the answers from their booklet to their palm cards, print the information and glue it to some cardboard. A few of the students reported talking in front of the class as difficult for them.
Questionnaire 3 : Question 6 – What did you learn in doing this research project?
For the students in this class, the question of what did you learn, overwhelmingly produced facts in their answers. See figure 6. These facts did become more elaborate and sophisticated moving towards explanation statements, though conclusion statements are not well represented in the results. The choice which these students made to represent their knowledge as an accumulation of facts as opposed to the knowledge gained in the process of accumulating information was no surprise. Typically, in schools today the measurement of student’s knowledge is through outcomes which focus on exams, essays and presentations rather than being measured in terms of existing knowledge and how it has changed through information seeking and information use (Todd, 2006). This ILA was in no way a unit taught through a guided inquiry method. Instead the results reflect what the students have been taught as the correct way to respond to the question.
Questionnaire 3 : Question 7 – How do you feel about your research?
Administered at the completion of the task, students were asked to tick the box which best described how they felt about the task. Students reported either feeling confident or happy. All of the students completed the task and presented their information to the class at the tasks end. Of note is the gender bias where all the boys preferred to represent their feelings as confident as opposed to feeling happy.
Callison, D. (1997). Mental models. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 14(4), 37-40.
Donham, J., Heinrich, J. A., & Bostwick, K. A. (2010). Mental models of research: Generating authentic questions. College Teaching, 58(1), 8-14. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/vcol20/current#.VDm2uSFArIU
Kuhlthau, C.(2010). Guided inquiry: school libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 17-28. Retrieved from https://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/docs/GI-School-Librarians-in-the-21-Century.pdf
Kuhlthau, C., Heinstrom, J, & Todd, R. J. (2008). The “Information search process’ revisited: is the model still useful? IR Information Research 13(4). Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/13-4/paper355.html
Todd, R. J. (2006). From information to knowledge: Charting and Measuring Changes in Students’ Knowledge of a Curriculum Topic. IR Information Research, 11 (4). Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/11-4/paper264.html.