Springing Into Digital Research Projects

Over the last 18 months in Media 21, students have created a variety of learning products:  traditional research papers, collaboratively written research papers, digital learning portfolios (which included multigenre elements), and information dashboards (Netvibes).  In thinking about this spring’s research project on veterans’ issues and how to meet our students are their point of need while pushing their thinking, Susan Lester (my co-teacher) and I decided to go focus on students creating a digital research project (see details above in the embedded project document).  After engaging in presearch for three days this week, students will choose a topic and then be grouped by common research interests.  Like last semester, these teams of students will collaboratively investigate a common list of of research questions developed by Susan and to create a digital research project that reflects the findings of their research.

This concept of a digital research project is inspired by our own previous efforts, Jim Burke’s musings on digital essays, and the wikified research project at Learning and Laptops.  Students will use Google docs to draft sections of the text (see page 3 of the project document for the organizational structure of the “text”) and share the final drafts on their group created research wikis (we are using Wikispaces).  Within each page or section of the research project or “paper” on the wiki, students may include hyperlinks to their original sources or embedded multimedia to help enhance the reading experience of the audience.  In addition, students will embed one mulitgenre element in each section that represents some key insight, understanding, or knowledge related to their research in that section.  Groups will also use the discussion feature of their wiki instead of WordPress this time to centralize their learning reflections.  Groups will be responsible for all decision-making as to coordinating the sections and responsibilities of the digital research project.

Here are a few other changes to our spring project from previous research endeavors in Media 21:

  • As I blogged last week, we are using Symbaloo for an information dashboard instead of Netvibes, and students will use this tool as an organizational tool rather than final learning artifact like last spring.
  • We are using NoodleTools instead of Evernote this spring for notetaking—since students are collaborating on the Works Cited page, we felt they should also work collaboratively on their notecards, and NoodleTools provides an easy interface for doing that with shared lists.  We also felt that based on their work last semester, our students need a little more assistance and scaffolding in improving their notetaking skills, and we feel NoodleTools will support these efforts.
  • Students will not present a final “presentation zen” style presentation; however, the tradeoff is that we are creating an entire week for peer review of digital research projects and self-assessment (more on this aspect to come in late April).

In this process of letting some learning activities go while adding others, I’m looking forward to seeing how these adjustments work for our students.  The only change I’d like to have made with this project was to have given students the opportunity and strategies to have developed their own research questions to facilitate somewhat more authentic inquiry; however, I am hopeful that we will be able to open up the inquiry process a bit more in 2010-11.  I so appreciate Susan’s willingness to pilot this new model of “research paper” as students will not submit a paper document, and once we learn what works well and what does not, I hope to scale this out to other teachers/students in all subject areas.

I’ll be sharing update on observations and student work/insights in this space over the next six weeks, so I hope you’ll stay tuned as we being our next journey of learning!

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