research

Video Interview: The Importance of Choice for Igniting Student Passion and Learning Through Research Projects

Earlier this week, I ran a short feature on our art gallery inspired by student research.  In the video below, Teagan takes a few minutes to discuss her work and the importance of choice in igniting student passion in research/inquiry projects.

Student Research Inspired Art Gallery

Research Inspired Art

This fall, The Unquiet Library has hosted a unique art installation inspired by student research this past spring.  Some of you may remember Teagan from this past winter and her unique approach to creating mindmaps.  Teagan and her partner Kristiena (whom you may remember as one of my co-authors from this fall for a Knowledge Quest article) created a digital multigenre research composition on veterans and PTSD.  Both Teagan and Kristiena were part of a group of students who generously shared their insights and reflections on being immersed in a participatory culture of learning.   In their words, they set out to explore “…PTSD, the effects it has on veterans, and how veterans can receive help from this mental illness. It is very important to understand the severity of this undermined illness because without knowing about the organizations that help these veterans, the specific treatments these organizations use, and what we can do as a community to help, we are letting our country’s veterans down.”  Their inquiry was inspired by their readings of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac, and Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson.

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Teagan, who is a gifted photographer, decided to create her own original images to depict some of the key ideas and findings from their research and integrate them into the multigenre digital text.  I was so struck by the artistry of her work that this fall, I asked her if she would consider letting the library create prints of her work and have a research inspired art gallery.  She graciously gave me permission and used excerpts of her research to create informational placards for each print.  After we mounted the prints and placards on art easels, we arranged Teagan’s artwork in the sequence she outlined for us so that viewers could follow the narrative of her artistic creations.  Students and teachers alike have been impressed not only with her moving and striking photography, but they have also been pleasantly surprised to learn that it was sparked by the information she discovered in her research and that the gallery is an alternative representation of those findings.  Not only did Teagan photograph and process the photographs, but she and her father both served as models for the prints.

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The research inspired art gallery has not only helped others learn about PTSD and its impact on veterans, but it has also nudged people to see research as something more than an assignment and that it is a mode of learning that can far beyond a class assignment.  I am hopeful that future galleries featuring inquiry inspired creative works will be commonplace and can incorporate additional participatory mediums for interacting with the gallery with a feature like panels coated in IdeaPaint where people can respond to the art and ideas. On behalf of the library and our learning community, I would like to thank Teagan for generously sharing her talent and wisdom with us.

Easing Their Citation Pain: Putting the Focus on Critical Thinking in Research with EasyBib

Original photography by Buffy Hamilton

One of the challenges of teaching research and information literacy to high school students is helping them conceptualize and apply the principles of citation and ethical use of information.   Because so many students come to us with a limited understanding of accessing, using, and evaluating different kinds of information sources, particularly databases, as well as citation skills, I’ve been contemplating for the last year how to invest less time in the mechanics of creating citations and more time on the critical thinking in their inquiry/research processes.

My school district has provided all of our schools a NoodleTools subscription for many years, and it has been a well-appreciated product by our teachers.  However, no matter how much one on one help we provided (and my teachers can attest to what a huge commitment of time and energy the 1:1 help effort has been the last six years), how many step by step handouts we created, or how many video tutorials we created, students in all grade levels struggled to master the steps to citing different sources, particularly the databases.  In spite of our best efforts, citation was painful for students as they struggled to discern the variety of choices the citation wizard offered since they were still building context and knowledge about the variety of information sources available within specific databases.

In January, I made the decision to purchase a school subscription to EasyBib in order to provide our students and teachers an additional choice for citation and e-notecard management.   Several factors influenced this decision:

  • After seeing students continue to struggle with citation and NoodleTools during first semester, I knew we had to find alternate citation solutions for this academic year.
  • I felt I could not continue to indulge the patience of students and teachers in devoting inordinate amounts of time to the actual creation of citations.
  • The new version of NoodleTools with the enchancments we wanted (that will be similar to those in EasyBib) would not be available for this current semester.
  • My colleague Roxanne retired and the district made the decision to hire a long term substitute in her place for the semester; because the long term substitute came with no teaching or library experience and had very limited knowledge of NoodleTools, I knew that continuing to teach citation through NoodleTools would be even more challenging.
  • The school subscription was budget friendly.
  • The most excellent customer service and tech support I’ve received from Kerry Kitka.
  • EasyBib has demonstrated continuous development in the design of their product as well as regular updates/upgrades to their suite of features.

The implementation of EasyBib as an alternate tool for citation has been easy and incredibly well-received by both students and teachers.  The learning curve has been gentle for students in all grade levels, and our students in grades 10-12 who had previously used NoodleTools have been appreciative of the features in EasyBib that make citation a much less cumbersome process—I’ve received numerous rounds of applause when I have demonstrated the database upload feature as well as the SweetSearch integration feature with EasyBib.   Our students and teachers have especially loved the ability to upload the publication data files (.ris and .txt) from databases like EBSCOhost and GALE-Cengage.

Original photograph by Buffy Hamilton

Students have commented that the interface seems clean and easy to follow.   Our ninth grade students especially  love the features of the electronic notes, including the ease of grouping and color coding e-notes.  Several students have expressed surprise and delight with EasyBib’s features and how quickly they’ve learned to use the tools; others have commented they feel as though they can now focus on analyzing their research and finding additional information to broaden their understanding instead of getting bogged down in the mechanics of citation.  Students also love the EasyBib mobile app for scanning books as well as the autocite a book feature.  So far, EasyBib has appealed to a diverse range of learners across a variety of content/subject areas in our instruction the last two months.

My teachers and I also like that when students use the autocite feature websites, their evaluation of the source as being credible, somewhat credible, or not credible aligns with our instruction of the CRAAP information evaluation guidelines that we ask students to apply to ALL information sources.  English teacher Deborah Frost appreciates how expedient EasyBib is making the citation process so that her students can spend more time on annotating their articles and thinking critically during pre-search.  Teacher Abigail Jackson loves the ability for students to easily import database publication files to generate citations while Drew Lawson loved the autocite a book feature.

Although EasyBib does not currently have all the sharing features offered by NoodleTools (which our students and teachers do love), the clean interface and ease of use has made it very popular with our students and faculty in a short time.  I also appreciate their ready made tutorial videos and handouts as well.

I am thrilled that I’m in a position to offer our students a choice of citation tools.  My hope is that by offering students a choice, students can find the citation manager that works best for their needs.  It has truly been energizing to see how EasyBib has created a more positive energy for our collaborative research projects and freed more time in our instructional units to focus on search, evaluation, and critical thinking.   Students still have to make basic distinctions about different kinds of publication sources and publication information in EasyBib, but EasyBib truly scaffolds that decision making process; I liken it to having a “spotter” when one is learning a new skill in gymnastics—EasyBib allows students to master the skills without stumbling or getting overly frustrated.    I’m hopeful that by minimizing the “pain” of citation through EasyBib, students will not approach research with a sense of “dread” at the prospect of getting lost in the morass of citation mechanics.  My goal is to provide students a sound, positive foundation in a diverse range of traditional and emerging research skills, critical thinking experiences, and rich inquiry driven research/learning opportunities;  EasyBib is helping my library program to work toward that goal more effectively and to meet the students at their point of need.

I have also created an EasyBib 101 LibGuide that includes material from EasyBib as well as my own original tutorial videos that address some of the issues our students may encounter in our network with Internet Explorer (the only browser students are allowed to use at this time); please feel free to use any of the materials I’ve uploaded to this guide.

Teacher Reflections on the Value of Pre-Search and Presentation Zen Style for Student Learning

I’m excited to team up again this month with Deborah Frost, one of the most experienced and talented teachers here at Creekview High School.   Deborah’s 9th Honors/Literature Composition students are in the library for the rest of the month as they inquire into a controversial/hot topic of their choice and craft a persuasive research paper on that topic as well as an oral presentation.  Through trial and error over the years, Deborah and I have learned much together as instructional partners as we’ve reflected long and hard about what has worked and what hasn’t in each collaborative project we’ve endeavored to do with her students.

Last year, Deborah was more than willing to implement two new aspects to the research design we were crafting.  As part of my effort to make a more concentrated effort to frontload the initial connecting, wondering, and investigating stages of inquiry, she agreed to let me build in a larger initial chunk of pre-search time with the students to help them:

1.  gain background knowledge about their controversial/hot topic and determine if that was really the topic they wanted to explore or to see if there were other topics of more interest to them

2.  read more intentionally and thoughtfully to help them begin discerning big ideas from facts

3.  to begin building background knowledge to develop research questions and to determine if the articles really spoke to their information seeking needs

The students worked for approximately six weeks as they researched, submitted research questions, and collaboratively composed a persuasive paper in Google Docs.  The other new component of the learning experience was teaching students skills and concepts associated with the “Presentation Zen” style PowerPoints for a class presentation to compose an oral presentation supported by those visuals that helped tell the narrative of the learning and insights.

Because that design was so rich and successful, we are doing it with this year’s freshmen.  We’ve made a few tweaks to the new and improved pre-search graphic organizer (see below).

We’ll also be incorporating some new search skills to the students as well.  The other new component for the project is the use of EasyBib in place of NoodleTools since EasyBib allows us to more easily create citations for our database articles.   We will once again do the Presentation Zen style presentations, and in April, I’ll blog a few new minor but helpful modifications I’ve come up with this past year to help support the learning curve for the skills associated with that endeavor.  Finally, we’re being flexible with the schedule/timeline of learning activities to be responsive to student needs; while we have a working calendar, we’re letting it be fluid so we can be responsive to the students if they more or less time for a specific skill or learning activity, then we can do that without feeling married to “the calendar”.   I’m appreciative that Deborah Frost is willing to experiment and to be improvisational as needed within the larger framework we’ve co-designed for the students.

I invite you to check out our research guide and to take a few minutes to listen to Deborah’s reflections on the value of pre-search and Presentation Zen style for student learning!

A Conversation for Learning: Media 21 Students Share Their Search Stories and Strategies

Seeing students utilize the information literacy skills you’ve previously taught them in a new context and independently without it being a mandate is probably one of the most joyful experiences as a librarian and teacher.  Take a look at how one of our inquiry groups is growing as budding researchers and demonstrating these skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies from the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners:

  • 1.1.8 Demonstrate mastery of technology tools for accessing information and pursuing inquiry.
  • 1.2.1 Display initiative and engagement by posing questions and investigating the answers beyond the collection of superficial facts.
  • 1.1.9 Collaborate with others to broaden and deepen understanding.
  • 1.2.2 Demonstrate confidence and self-direction by making independent choices in the selection of resources and information.
  • 1.2.7 Display persistence by continuing to pursue information to gain a broad perspective.
  • 1.4.1 Monitor own information-seeking processes for effectiveness and progress, and adapt as necessary.
  • 1.4.2 Use interaction with and feedback from teachers and peers to guide own inquiry process.
  • 3.2.3 Demonstrate teamwork by working productively with others.