There was a big response
to the Part 1 of the infoBliteracy
article from Term 2. Several teachers asked me what I thought
about a recent discussion on some listserv (?) about inquiry topics,
suggesting, apparently, that ‘topics’ are the problem. They asked
whether I agreed and how this related to information literacy
and what I said in the infoBliteracy article.
I haven’t a clue!
Inquiry was the step-by-step
process promoted by Dewey and Kilpatrick, the pioneers of the
so-called ‘Project Method’ in USA in the early 1900’s. The term
dropped out of sight until the 70/80’s when it was associated
with Hilda Taba’s social studies questioning method. Now it seems
to have re-emerged in the context of finding/presenting info using
On Friday I asked
the mums finding info for their kids in the local public library
what they were doing. It seems that they were doing what they
now call ‘inquiry’ and the kids were going to "present the
information on the computer." Silly old me, I should have
Now I DO know about
using information process frameworks, having started with Marland’s
in 1979. But I’m not at all sure that ANY information process
framework (Marland’s, mine or the many truncated or expanded derivatives)
is what I’d use to prevent infoBliteration, or to teach kids to
transform information into cognitively processed, meaningful knowledge.
This is NOT because frameworks are linear - any skilled teacher
will understand the iterative nature of the steps and stages of
any process framework - but simply because there are easier ways
to skin the infoliteracy cat.
My Action Learning
Framework (Gawith, 1984) is still great when you know what you
are doing. It’s a pretty good framework for research. I should
know. I’m using it for my research again this year! But then I
know what I’m doing and I’ve defined my topic (information literacy)
very carefully because I know how important it is to have a first
step where you decide what you need to know, map your topic etc.
I'm quite good at that because I know enough about information
literacy to work out what I need to know and translate it into
questions. So the topic, for me, really isn't a problem.
The nature of the
topic is only really vitally important when it comes to what you
do with the information, ie if you are just going to paste it
up on paper or on the screen, then what the hell, anything will
do, the more the better.
However, if you are
going to reason with it, weigh the claims it makes, summarise
and synthesise what it says, compare it with other information,
make inferences about it, establish its accuracy, relevance, etc,
then it is important that, as a learner, the topic is intrinsically
interesting, that you want to learn about it, that you are so
interested in it that you WANT to find more information, read
all about it, think about it, discuss it...
This is the kind of
learning you do when you are TAUGHT how to use information with
discrimination; when you are taught the skills to become information
literate and avoid infoBliteration.
Topics a problem?
Again, it makes as much sense as saying 'inquiry' is a problem.
Put it this way, have you ever tried finding info without a topic,
when you didn’t know what you were looking for? If you don’t want
to find information about something, are you going to look up
something about nothing?
I agree that topics
are a problem if:
teachers set ‘inquiry’
aka ‘research’ aka ‘projects’ on topics that aren’t information-rich
(meaning that there are lots of books at the right level in
the library, lots of kid-level websites, posters, pictures,
‘inquiry’ on topics that are too abstract (greed), or too everyday
(supermarkets) or too blurred in focus (Easter - do you go the
bunny route, the pagan egg route or the religious route?);
potentially suitable topics but children have no intrinsic interest
in them; the topics are not relevant to children’s lives and
they have little prior knowledge;
potentially OK topics but children have no idea where to look
for info, how to look for info, or what to do with the info
when they (or ?) find it.
half a dozen projects a term because it is the predominant method
implicit in our silly over-stuffed curriculum;
the model of ‘inquiry’
in children’s heads is the cognitive by-pass model - find info
(the more the better) and paste it up electronically or manually
and this is called ‘presenting information’.
(Actually, when they
get to university they’ll find out it’s called plagiarism, but
that’s another story).
The point I’m making
is that almost any information-rich topic can be suitable if teachers
build students’ prior knowledge, make it authentic and relevant
to them, and interest them in owning the learning process. As
per Tararua, THIS TAKES TIME.
Ask the teachers participating
in the 3Doors® trial this year. 3Doors® isn’t ‘inquiry’;
it doesn’t use ‘brainstorming’ or even the ubiquitous questions
(you know, who what where when why how). It doesn’t use steps
It DOES emphasise
the teacher’s role in authenticating (making topic and process
relevant and interesting), motivating by building prior knowledge,
and building the learner’s capacity for ownership, self-efficacy
and self-regulation. This can make the most apparently banal topics
absolutely riveting. The riveting bit is when kids learn to make
and justify claims, make inferences, develop, share and test ideas
I think that’s called
learning, not ‘inquiry’?
But maybe not. Dewey
didn’t have a computer and access to the Internet, but so what?
He really really DID understand inquiry as learning. His inquiry
wasn’t about topics. It was about learning to appreciate knowledge
in a subject domain by exploring it heuristically, thinking and
reasoning, for example, like a historian. Read Dewey.
Dewey’s kind of inquiry
I understand. It’s about transforming information into knowledge,
not about looking up discrete topics and pasting up information.
If he weren’t long gone, I’d suggest bringing him out as the guest
speaker for the next ICT conference. We need his version of inquiry.