How to Develop Research Skills of Learners in Online Instruction
To develop research skills of learners is preparing them to be better problem-solvers. And instructors shoulder a big responsibility to help learners learn to utilize the ways and means of researching. Learn how to develop research skills of learners when teaching online.
Few textbooks have journeyed with me over multiple cross-country moves from student days at Cornell University to my current bookshelf. Models of Teaching is one I kept, and then updated to a more current edition (Weil, Joyce, & Calhoun, 2009, pp. 86-87). The models that have intrigued me all these years focus on creating communities of learners through engaging social-learning approaches. Yes, you could say their work represents a social constructivist perspective. And while I have given a lot of thought to social constructivism in the online world (Salmons, 2009, 2015), here I want to look specifically at inquiry models of teaching and how we can use them online to build deeper levels of comprehension.
What are inquiry models?
Inquiry models of teaching and to stimulate students’ and participants’ curiosity and build their skills in finding, analyzing, and using new information to answer questions and solve problems. Instead of transferring knowledge, we aim to build new knowledge. Instead of providing facts, we create an environment where students are encouraged to look for new ways of looking at an understanding problems, discern important and relevant concepts, and inductively develop coherent answers or approaches. As Weil et al. (2009) explain:
“Humans conceptualize all the time, comparing and contrasting objects, events, emotions – everything. To capitalize on his natural tendency we raise the learning environment to give test the students to increase their effectiveness. Working in using concepts, and we hope that consciously develop your skills for doing so. (p. 86)”
They suggest 3 guidelines for designing this kind of learning experience (Weil et al., 2009):
1. Focus: Concentrate on an area of inquiry they can master.
2. Conceptual control: Organize information into concepts, and gain mastery by distinguishing between and categorizing concepts.
3. Converting conceptual understanding to skills: Learn to build and extend categories, manipulate concepts, and use them to develop solutions or answers to the original questions.
How can we use inquiry models online?
Online research activities can be incorporated into e-learning or hybrid instruction in formal or informal educational settings that reflect the Weil et al.’s guidelines:
1. Focus: Assignments can begin with a research plan or design- what information is needed to answer what question? What are the parameters for this assignment, including time constraints?
2. Conceptual Control: Approaches to gathering information can include online interviews with practitioners, experts, or individuals with experience in the topic at hand. Assignments can include observation of online activities, including social media, communities, and posted discussions. Or, assignments can include research and analysis of documents or visual records available online or in digital libraries or archives. Once information and data has been collected, participants organize, prioritize and describe relationships between key ideas.
3. Converting conceptual understanding to skills: The above activities are of little use unless students can synthesize and make sense of what they’ve studied. What can they do with what they’ve learned– either to further academic study or to develop practical solutions using these new findings? A first step may be a discussion that where individuals or teams share what they’ve learned and invite new insights from others in the class. At this point they may identify new questions or topics for future inquiry.
Why are inquiry models important today?
Educators engage learners when learners are engaged in true inquiry. In the digital age we overwhelmed with information, some of it vetted by editors or reviewers, but much of it made freely available by anyone with a point of view and a smart phone. It is ever more important to develop the skills needed to focus on specific questions and discern relevant and credible evidence as needed to address them. Research activities invite students to build critical thinking skills at the analysis and synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Whether students or participants are preparing to be scholars or professionals, research skills are essential and modern life. By integrating research experiences into content courses across the curriculum (rather than offer them in methods classes exclusively), students can learn to research and research to learn.
Where can I learn more?
Join my session Learning to Research, Researching to Learn at CO16 – Global Virtual Online Conference on February 5. Click on ‘save my spot’ button to participate in this and other sessions with educators from across the globe. Learn how to develop research skills of your learners when teaching online.
*This post has been originally published on Vision 2 Lead.