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Information Overload and Inquiry

13 August 2009 3 Comments

I am cross-posting this from a discussion I am contributing to in an online paper at the School of Education.  Would be interested to see what readers of this blog think…

Just wanted to share something with you that I always think about in my own teaching and share with teachers who I am working with. Often teachers feel frustrated that students find and access information very quickly and simply copy and paste from the first page that pops up on the Google search or straight from Wikipedia.

If we pop this into the inquiry cycle from the Effective Pedagogy section of the NZ Curriculum it might look something like this:

inquiry cycle

Teaching Inquiry: come up with a topic we want our students to learn and decide to offer this as a research project.
Teaching: ask the students to find out more about the given topic
Learning: students find and access the information needed and present it to the teacher to prove they have done it
Learning Inquiry: Students copied and pasted information in order to answer the question I as the teacher asked them.
Is there something I need to change?: since I did not want them to copy and paste from the internet YES there is something I need to change - according to the diagram above - we don’t just plug back into the Teaching/Learning part - we go right back to the Teaching Inquiry part… and ask again - what strategies are going to help my students learn this… I would argue that many students already know how to take notes and know how to access different sources of information, but most do not see the point in this… if we reflect then on our students’ learning as being as a result of our own teaching practice, then we could start thinking about the tasks on which we are getting our students to work.

So… I think this is kind of a long way to go about justifying the point I am about to make!!!

If teachers are complaining that students are copying and pasting from Wikipedia, I would suggest that they simply have not asked their students to do anything more than this…

What happens when we ask different questions? When we give our students a question that in its very nature requires them to gather information from a range of different sources? That requires them to find, read, analyse and process information in order to answer the question that has been asked of them?

Would you agree??? If we are complaining that the students are doing something different from what we want them to do then we need to ask them to do it in a new way?


  • Anne Harrison said:

    As a mother of two high school kids I despair when they come home with “projects” to do a “poster” on such thrilling topics as “a composer” or “global warming”.
    These of course must be hand written to avoid “cutting and pasting” (they don’t mention copying verbatim of course, and then complain when they quote wikipedia as a source.
    Fostering inquiring minds? I think not!!
    You are quite right - it is not what the kids are producing it is the questions they are being asked that is the point to ponder.

  • Noeline said:

    Hi Toni,
    While I agree with what you’ve said about the cycle of reflection and inquiry, there is a step missing, I think. It’s not just about asking the right questions, it’s also about teachers deliberately guiding the process of HOW to select and use. This is what Kalantzis (2005) said was ‘premeditated pedagogy’. It implies examining how well subject teachers use approaches that support students to learn how to make notes, how to find a key idea and how to use that key for another purpose in their content area. Models are good. And in terms of checking prior knowledge, how do teachers know that students can make notes (this is different from taking notes), and transfer those notes into a new product for a new purpose? How regularly is this learning process/metacognition modelled, supported and scaffolded?

  • Craig Steed said:

    One aspect I enjoy in the senior sciences at secondary level are some of the assessment activities (unavoidable to bring in assessment isn’t it) that require more than the basic type of research activities you describe. Two great examples are Science 2.2 - which can allow students to explore the development of a scientific model/theory (amongst other things). This allows them to explore the current thinking of the time and how new discoveries led to previous models being challenged, but also how new knowledge was not always positively viewed. Students need to to be able to see from the scientist’s perspective, the one with the new knowledge and those who resist the change in ideas, often the wider science community or society with their own in/valid reasons. Seeing from both sides is what I like students doing. Similarly Science 3.2 requires students to research a controversial scientific issue. This requires they present arguements from both sides of a controversy, integrate information, evaluate it then take a position of their own - and critically, they need to justify this position. To me this is what it’s all about. As you say though, it needs to come from the task and the way the teacher constructs the challenge. Presenting a poster on Einstein will unlikely reveal the sort of thinking we want our students to be doing, as Anne also suggests.

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