Look at what we found!…
As described in the Methodology, students completed three SLIM Toolkit Questionnaires at three specific stages of the Information Learning Activity (ILA). These questionnaires were the main form of data collection. Below, the results of these questionnaires have been presented and interpreted. These results have enabled comparisons to be made between each questionnaire, and changes in the development of student knowledge and skills throughout the inquiry learning process to be demonstrated (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005). The previous Action Taken post describes some intervention that occurred throughout the research project, as a result of some of the preliminary findings.
Question One – Take some time to think about your topic. Write down everything you know about it.
In all three questionnaires students were asked to identify their existing knowledge and understanding about the First Fleet. Student responses were analysed and individually categorised into fact statements, explanation statements and conclusion statements. Incorrect responses were not counted. Figure 1 illustrates students’ responses for all three questionnaires.
This data shows that the number of student responses increased significantly between each questionnaire, demonstrating a clear growth in topic knowledge throughout the ILA. In particular, factual statements were the preferred method of student response. Kuhlthau, Heinstrom and Todd (2008) believe this is a normal approach, and most students feel more comfortable listing general facts from the information they have gathered, at the beginning of the research process. However as the inquiry progressed, so to did the number of factual statements, increasing from 13 to 42 to 60 in Questionnaire 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Here is an example of how a student’s response changed between Questionnaire 1 and Questionnaire 3:
Questionnaire 1 – Student M: “I don’t know a single thing.”
Questionnaire 3 – Student M: “There were 11 ships. The ships were called Charlotte, Fishburn, Friendship, Prince of Wales, HMS Sirius, HMS Supply, Scarborough, Alexander, Golden Grove, Lady Penrhyn and Borrowdale. They left on May 13 1787. They got to Botany Bay 18 January 1788. They left Botany Bay. They got to Port Jackson 26 January. Sarah Bellamy was a convict. Nancy Yeats was a convict.”
While the quality of factual statements improved significantly from Questionnaire 1 to Questionnaire 3 (as seen in the above student’s responses), there were only very few students who engaged more deeply or analytically with the information. Throughout the ILA, there was only a very small increase in the number of explanation statements and conclusion statements given between Questionnaire 1 and Questionnaire 2, before these statements appeared to regress again in Questionnaire 3. Surprisingly, one student provided an explanation statement early in Questionnaire 1, but it was later observed that she had previously engaged in a similar inquiry at her previous school. Here is an example of a student’s explanation in Questionnaire 1:
Questionnaire 1 – Student L: “In the First Fleet they sent convicts over to Australia because there wasn’t enough room left in England jails.”
Here is an example of two more students who moved towards developing a deeper engagement with their research in Questionnaire 2 and Questionnaire 3 respectively:
Questionnaire 2 – Student E: “Before the transportation to Australia, there was the prison hulks, jails and they were sending convicts to America but America said stop sending the convicts here because we are no longer in the Commonwealth. So they needed a new idea. That’s when they decided to send convicts to Australia on the First Fleet.”
Questionnaire 3 – Student O: “The First Fleet were a group of 11 ships in search of a new colony because the jails were overflowing with convicts and the British could not send them to America anymore because they were their own country and no longer in the Commonwealth. So the British decided to send them to New Holland, which is now called Australia.”
As the main objective of an inquiry project is to go beyond simple fact finding, it is evident that these students have been able to synthesize and assimilate general facts, before constructing new knowledge (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007). However, not all students progress through this construction process independently (Kuhlthau et al., 2008). Therefore it is vital that students’ actions and expectations are carefully guided by teacher instruction to enable deeper knowledge development (Kuhlthau et al., 2007).
Question Two – How interested are you in this topic?
In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify their interest in learning and researching about the First Fleet. Students indicated their interest by selecting one of four responses – Not at all interested, Not much interested, A little bit interested and Very interested. Figures 2, 3 and 4 illustrate students’ responses in all three questionnaires.
This data shows that student interest overall increased throughout the ILA. By grouping together the ‘A little bit interested’ and ‘Very interested’ categories, it is evident how significantly this interest increased – from 50% in Questionnaire 1, to 93% in Questionnaire 2, to 92% in Questionnaire 3. In particular the ‘Very interested’ category increased from 21% in Questionnaire 1 to 67% in Questionnaire 3. Kuhlthau et al. (2008) suggests that it is expected that students would have a lower level of interest at the beginning of the research project, as they are lacking in prior knowledge and are yet to refine their topic relevance and meaning. However once students take authentic ownership, become more involved in the construction of their own knowledge, and receive specific interventions by skilled professionals, the more interested and engaged students become (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).
This data also aligns neatly with the Information Search Process (ISP) model, which suggests that although students may begin with vague thoughts, as these thoughts become more focused, their interest level increases (Kuhlthau, 2004). As interest and motivation are fundamental components of inquiry learning, Murdoch (2012) emphasises the importance of engaging students early, as a way of tuning students in. It is imperative that teachers create this climate of discovery and empower students to inquire, participate, create and learn in ways that are meaningful to them (Kuhlthau, 2009). Student interest and engagement alone can potentially influence what is learned, and how much is retained (Suda, 2009).
However it is important to note that there has been a very slight 1% dip in interest between Questionnaire 2 (93%) and Questionnaire 3 (92%), where the ‘Not at all interested’ category returned to feature. This was the result of one student who lost interest throughout the research process. Interestingly, this particular student responded with ‘A little bit interested’ in Questionnaire 1, but due to being absent for a good part of the ILA, he missed crucial elements of the research process and went without critical and timely interventions, which may have encouraged him to focus and make better sense of the information. Kuhlthau et al. (2008) suggests these interventions are an essential part of regulating a student’s emotional experience.
Question Three – How much do you know about this topic?
In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify their topic knowledge about the First Fleet. Students indicated their perceived level of knowledge by selecting one of four responses – Nothing, A little bit, Quite a bit and A great deal. Figures 5, 6 and 7 illustrate students’ responses in all three questionnaires.
This data shows that students’ perceived levels of knowledge increased throughout the ILA. In particular it can be seen that the 43% of students with no knowledge in Questionnaire 1, reduced to 0% by Questionnaire 2. It can also be seen that the 0% of students who identified as having a great deal of knowledge in Questionnaire 1, increased to 14% in Questionnaire 2 and 50% in Questionnaire 3. This significant positive trend demonstrates that students have gradually built on their prior knowledge and constructed new knowledge and understanding by participating in this research project. It is important to note that all students who identified as lacking in knowledge in Questionnaire 1, developed some knowledge by Questionnaire 3. Developing “independent learners who know how to expand their [topic] knowledge and expertise through skilled use of a variety of information sources” is the ultimate goal of inquiry learning (Kuhlthau et al., 2007, p.3).
The increased level of perceived topic knowledge in all questionnaires also links directly with the work produced in class and the factual statements that students provided in the questionnaires. By grouping together the ‘Quite a bit’ and ‘A great deal’ categories, it is interesting to see that students’ topic knowledge increased from 0% to 93% to 100% in questionnaires 1, 2 and 3 respectively. This indicates that students acquired many new facts during the early to middle stages of the ILA, and as the research project drew to a close, students became more critical of the information they had already found and began developing a deeper understanding of that content. Once again, this data aligns neatly with the ISP model, which suggests that students begin by seeking and exploring relevant information, before pursing and documenting more pertinent and refined information (Kuhlthau, 2004).
However it is interesting to note that there are still 50% of students in Questionnaire 3 who have identified as having ‘Quite a bit’ of knowledge, but not ‘A great deal’. This is important because it means that these students feel they have not made the final steps within the ISP model and may still be stuck in the exploration and/or formulation stages with more questions to ask and more clarity to seek (Kuhlthau, 2004). Alternatively, these students may just be very modest and feel that there is always more learning to do. The latter appears to fit this scenario a little better, when class work produced and statements made in the questionnaires are analysed. As Kuhlthau et al. (2007) suggests, inquiry learning does stimulate future learning opportunities, by engaging students’ innate curiosity.
Question Four – When you need to find something out or do some research, what do you generally find easy to do? Please list as many as you like.
In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify what tasks they found easy to do when conducting research. Students documented their feelings using open-ended responses. These responses were then categorised into five themes – traditional literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, visual literacy and other. Figure 8 illustrates the scope of students’ responses. Identical responses have been omitted from this table.
This sample of responses indicates that students found a range of tasks easy to master at different stages in the ILA. Although these comments are specific to individual students, by examining these responses more closely, it is interesting to note that across all themes some responses have remained constant over the research process. For example, looking at and using pictures and graphics throughout the research project has remained consistently easy to master for students. In addition, the ability to use the Internet to find websites has also been considered as an easy task to master across all stages of the research project. However other tasks appear to have transformed at various stages in the ILA. Here are some examples:
- Reading information featured heavily in Questionnaire 1 and 2, but transformed into thinking about the information being read in Questionnaire 3. This demonstrates that students have reached the end stages of Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model, and are no longer just reading information for relevance, but are more actively engaged in the subject content and have become critical of the information they are reading.
- Finding websites was a task that students found predominately easy in Questionnaire 1. However in Questionnaire 2 this transformed to finding the right website. This may have been a direct result of specific intervention that occurred in the early stages of the ILA, which targeted students finding the right websites using safe search engines and Boolean search strategies. It is interesting to note however, that this is no longer mentioned as being easy to master in Questionnaire 3, and may have required more specific intervention later in the research project. As Kuhlthau et al. (2007) suggests, although students require considerable guidance throughout the whole inquiry process, levels of intervention, timing of the invention and specific students requiring this intervention may differentiate considerably.
- Finding something good to write featured in Questionnaire 1, but by Questionnaire 3 this heavily changed to putting information into dot points and notes. This may have been another direct result of the critical intervention that occurred in the middle to late stages of the ILA, which focused on note taking using graphic organisers. This intervention appeared to be very timely, as students competently rose to the challenge of taking their own notes for their Convict Autobiography.
Question Five – When you need to find something out or do some research, what do you generally find difficult to do? Please list as many as you like.
In all three questionnaires, students were asked to identify what tasks they found difficult to do when conducting research. Students documented their feelings using open-ended responses. Like Question 4, these responses were then categorised into five themes – traditional literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, visual literacy and other. Figure 9 illustrates the scope of students’ responses. Identical responses have been omitted from this table.
This sample of responses indicates that students found a range of tasks more difficult to master at different stages in the ILA. Although these responses are specific to individual students, a clearer trend can be seen in students’ responses for this question. This data indicates that most students found Information Literacy skills harder to master for this task, followed by Traditional Literacy skills. This remained quite constant throughout the research project. Alternatively, Digital Literacy and Visual Literacy skills were not viewed as difficult, which directly correlates with students’ responses to Question Four.
The main Information Literacy difficulty students appear to have faced throughout the ILA is finding trustworthy websites with reliable information. This concern was initially raised in Questionnaire 1 as well as through informal classroom conversation. As a result classroom discussion quickly highlighted the possibility of finding conflicting information during the research process, and specific intervention was targeted at finding correct and reliable information on the Internet. In particular, students used the Cyber Smart: Finding and Identifying Appropriate Online Content Unit, to guide them in effectively evaluating websites they used. It was pleasing to see that only two students still found this skill difficult by Questionnaire 3, which can be attributed to the success of this intervention. It is interesting to note that even after this research project finished, students continued to use this Cyber Smart guide to evaluate websites they visited. This suggests that these students have not only mastered an Information Literacy skill essential for this research project, but a transferable skill that is necessary for living in the 21st century (Pappas, 2009).
However it was worrying to see that the Traditional Literacy difficulty of summarising research and putting it in your own words still featured heavily across all questionnaires, significantly contradicting the data provided in Question Four. This could indicate that the targeted whole class intervention on note taking did not adequately address this skill in the depth that individual students actually required. Instead Kuhlthau et al. (2007) suggests the importance of flexible groupings when intervening, enabling individual students to receive tailored support and guidance from a community of like-minded learners in their own time. This pedagogy may have attributed to more students mastering this skill earlier in the research project. It is interesting to note however, that although a number of students found this skill difficult throughout the entirety of the ILA, note taking was completed quite successfully in their own research.
Question Six – How do you feel about your research? Tick the box that shows how you feel.
In Questionnaire 2 and 3, an additional affective question was added to gauge students’ feelings about their research. Students identified their feelings by selecting one of four emotive options – Unhappy, Confused, Confident and Happy. Figures 10 and 11 illustrate students’ responses to this question in Questionnaire 2 and Questionnaire 3.
This data clearly demonstrates that all students identified as experiencing positive feelings throughout the middle to the end stages of the ILA. In particular, the number of students feeling happy about their research project rose from 57% in Questionnaire 2 to 75% in Questionnaire 3. As a direct result, the number of students feeling confident about their research dropped from 43% in Questionnaire 2 to 25% in Questionnaire 3. It is important to note that throughout this unit of inquiry all students either maintained a steady set of feelings or actually became more positive about their research.
It is interesting that the data collected in Questionnaire 2 contradicts the Kuhlthau’s (2004) ISP model that students have been closely following throughout their research project (Figure 12). As Questionnaire 2 was administered in the middle of the project while students were busy researching, it would be expected that students were still working in the ‘Exploration’ stage, where feelings of confusion, frustration and doubt were more apparent (Kuhlthau, 2004). Instead no students identified as having this feeling. This could have been attributed to the fact that students were actually further along in their inquiry discovery then they led me to believe. Students may in fact have entered in the ‘Formulation’ stage of the ISP model, where although it looked like they were busy taking notes, they were actually beginning to form a focus and become more critical of the information they encountered (Kuhlthau et al., 2008). This would prove to explain the more positive feelings experienced by all students, as it is expected that feelings of uncertainty transform during this stage (Kuhlthau, 2004). It would have been interesting to administer this questionnaire a week earlier to see the scope of this change.
At the end of the research project when Questionnaire 3 was administered, it can be seen that again all students have recorded positive feelings about their research. This closely matches the ISP model, and as expected, students feel very satisfied about their work and believe it has been successfully completed. In addition this data also correlates very closely with data collected earlier in Question Two and Question Three, where overall students identified as being interested in the topic and knowing a lot about it. In particular these results could have been attributed to a large number of factors including:
- Timely and specifically targeted interventions and guidance enabled students to progress successfully throughout the various stages of their research project.
- Students enjoyed researching a topic that was of interest to them.
- Students were happy that they acquired new historical topic knowledge.
- Students enjoyed learning valuable and transferable research skills that they could use and apply to other contexts in their own life.
- Students were satisfied with the way they presented their end product.
- Students were proud of themselves for completing the inquiry journey and successfully overcoming any challenges they may have faced along the way.
Question 7 – What did you learn from doing this research? Please list as many things as you like.
In Questionnaire 3, one final question was added to determine what students felt they had learned throughout the entirety of the research project. Students documented their thoughts with open-ended responses. These responses were then categorised into a series of themes. The themes used were identical to the ones previously used in Question Four and Five to maintain consistency (Traditional Literacy, Digital Literacy, Information Literacy, Visual Literacy and Other), with the addition of Curriculum Content. Some students’ responses could be classified into multiple themes, while other students provided multiple responses. Therefore it is important to realise that the number of responses provided does not correlate with the number of students who completed this questionnaire. Figure 13 illustrates the scope of students’ responses.
This data shows that students learned a range of skills throughout the ILA. Overwhelmingly, the largest number of responses (8) related directly to Information Literacy skills. Here are two sample responses from this category:
Questionnaire 3 – Student A: “It is important to check more than one website for specific information in case the first website is not correct.”
Questionnaire 3 – Student F: “When you search in Google you don’t type the question in, you need to choose a small number of important words to search for.”
These results show that this research project had a beneficial outcome in improving students’ Information Literacy skills. It is particularly pleasing to see students make advances in these skills, as students identified them as the hardest to master in Question Five. These skills also received the highest level of targeted intervention and guidance in the project. In addition, it is also very pleasing to see that students have realised the importance of these skills to the whole research process, regardless of their complexity.
The second largest number of responses (4) related directly to Curriculum Content. Here are two sample responses from this category:
Questionnaire 3 – Student O: “The First Fleet convicts built most of this country that we are living in.”
Questionnaire 3 – Student G: “People in England were very poor and therefore couldn’t resist stealing things to survive.”
These results show that this research project did increase students’ historical knowledge and understanding. Although I expected a higher number of responses in this category, I am pleased that the majority of students did not perceive this task solely as a fact-finding mission and saw other research skills as more important. As this was the first inquiry learning project undertaken by these students, this type of learning is not what they are used to and I am extremely satisfied that only four students deemed solely the accumulation of facts as meaningful learning.
Traditional Literacy skills and Other skills followed closely behind in the number of responses. Two students revealed that they had learned valuable lessons in note taking and putting notes into their own words, while two students revealed their understanding of the research process being made up of steps that you have to take one at a time. It was pleasing to read these comments as I did spend a substantial amount of time discussing and guiding students through both.
Digital Literacy skills and Visual Literacy skills were recorded as having the lowest level of learning. This directly correlates with student responses in Question Four, where the majority of students believed these were the easiest skills to master, thus no further intervention or guidance was required. This indicates why only two students felt they learned valuable digital literacy and visual literacy skills throughout the ILA. Here are the two responses:
Questionnaire 3 – Student D: “If you look carefully at pictures they can answer questions too.”
Questionnaire 3 – Student P: “Using Google Chrome when Internet Explorer doesn’t work properly.”
It is interesting to note that no student responses aligned directly with the social process of working alongside other students. Although not surprised, I found this interesting, as Kuhlthau et al. (2007) emphasises the range of social skills students can learn by interacting with their peers. This is particularly relevant as my class spent a great deal of time working in small groups, which although assisted in facilitating more effective and targeted intervention, also provided students with valuable opportunities to learn to work with different people. This collaboration enables students to think and construct deep understandings, with the support of a community of like-minded learners right beside them in the learning process (Kuhlthau et al., 2007).
Now let’s examine these Findings a little closer, by Analysing and making some Recommendations.
Educational Broadcasting Corporation. (2004). Concept to classroom: Inquiry-based learning: How does it differ from the traditional approach?
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Information search process.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2009). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Paper presented at the International Association of School Librarianship Annual Conference.
Kuhlthau, C. C., Heinstrom, J., & Todd, R. J. (2008). The ‘information search process’ revisited: Is the model still useful? Information Research, 13(4).
Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Marin, L. (2013). Let’s #color the world with #Lego! # Dispatchwork by Jan Vormann [Image]. Retrieved September 24, 2014.
Murdoch, K. (2012). Inquiry learning – journeys through the thinking processes.
Pappas, M. (2009). Inquiry and 21st century learning. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(9), 49-51.
Suda, L. (2009). The Melbourne story: Posing essential questions for inquiry. Agora, 44(1), 55-59.
Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C. C., & Heinstrom, J. E. (2005). School Library Impact Measure: A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of Guided Inquiry through the school library.