The Pre-Beta Release

Before I begin this brief description of the fledgling process I have cobbled together from various sources and methods, I wanted to send out a few thank yous to all of those that have contributed to my resource collection: Carolyn Foote, Tom Haskins, Barry Bachenheimer, Lisa Huff, Dana Huff, Nick Senger and the rest of the folks at Literacy Lighthouse, Diane Cordell, and Karen Janowski. Aside from feeling like I just won an Oscar after listing all of those names, I can’t think of a better research team than the network that exists around me. When I need things, they appear from everywhere.

The idea that our research process needed looking at came about during the middle of this past school year when the construction schedule for our new high school was released and it became clear to us that the Media Center as we knew it (read: one that contained books) would cease to exist. Our research process relied heavily on the use of database and print resources, as well as some internet sources depending on their validity. However, our ability to bring a class of students to the Media Center would not be there this year, so a lot of the processes we had used over the years would no longer be applicable. This led me to dig a little deeper: what was it that we wanted to teach the students about research? What are the essential skills that students should leave our high school with? Do processes like note cards have a place in an increasingly digital world? What about how we determine validity? Looking at these questions tore the roof off of the process, because now I was getting what really mattered about doing research. Tying this into what we’ve been throwing around with the 4 R’s of Rigor, Relevance, Relationship, and Results, I put some questions out to the network: And, in a moment of frustration: By the end of last week I was ready to start assembling the various parts I had gleaned from my own research and the links, as evidenced in tweets like this one in response to Carolyn Foote’s suggestion to check out Carol Kuhlthau’s research on how students engage in research processes and the emotional range they go through in doing it. That led me to the work of Jamie McKenzie. His Research Cycle uses a lot of the elements I had taken and co-opted for my own purposes here. I realized that we needed a framework in which to teach the essential skills of research in this day and age, and we needed one that relied heavily on inquiry and student-driven research. Within that framework, we could create all sorts of projects and learning outcomes. Here is the diagram for the final outcome, which takes into account McKenzie’s work, coupled with some other modes to work within:

This chart shows how the process centers on six essential skills, which in their final form, will represent the essential questions of the research process for students: Use of Inquiry and Questioning (throughout the process as idea generator, and as idea refiner), Information Retrieval Skills, Evaluation of Sources for Reliability and Validity, Synthesis of Information from Multiple Sources and Multiple Media, Attribution of Sources, Publishing for a Larger Audience. Throughout the course of their four years of high school, four modes with which to instruct students in McKenzie’s Research Cycle will be offered: Controlled, Guided, Modeled, and Free.  It is very easy to lump those categories into grade levels where Freshman conduct controlled research, Sophomores do guided, etc.  However, I designed this with the idea that the mode that a student does his or her research in can be differentiated by readiness level.  If a Freshman demonstrates the requisite skill necessary to carry out higher-level research, let them do a modeled or free research project, and it works conversely so as well.

It’s early in the process, and our teachers haven’t convened to review this, and I desperately need them to see where I believe we should be moving.  In my haste to eschew the old methods, I asked questions of the network, as I stated earlier.  One of the most eye-opening responses I got was from Lisa Huff.  I had asked whether or not we needed to be teaching the use of note cards in student research:

make them aware that there are multiple ways to attribute sources: the most appropriate may depend on the genre and context. For example, are there times when hyperlinked sources (throughout a published piece or at the end) are more appropriate than a formal MLA or APA works cited page? As for bib cards and note cards, I think, again, our focus should be on helping our students understand the process and available strategies for identifying important information from sources and selecting an organizational strategy to synthesize that information. If we show them multiple strategies and tools–underlining, highlighting, note cards, Furl, Digg,, online bib makers–I think we come closer to preparing them for the real information literacy demands they’ll face in their futures.

Although the highlight is my own, when I read this, that immediately stood out to me as an important thing we do for students: prepare them for the demands their futures will present them with.  Additionally, just as we focus so intently on the tech tools that we like to use, what is truly meaningful behind them is the utility that they bring to our lives.  If a tool doesn’t suit the job, discard it.  That comment, coupled with a response from Tom Haskins on a previous post regarding research:

The issue of “how to do research” has come up every time I’ve taught college seniors. I have a low tolerance for the voice in academic research papers. They read as “dry and boring” to me, just as they do to the students who write them. I tell them that a small minority of the “knowledge workers in the world” ever use their school experience of writing research papers again. The few that do are either college professors, research scientists or members of think tanks. Most everyone else is doing write-ups of field research. That includes journalists, authors, screenwriters, management consultants, counselors, social workers, law enforcement officers, anthropologists, an every kind of manager (product, HR, team, market, team, etc). The data is gathered from informal conversations, casual observations, formal interviews, photographic records, background reading, and comparisons with colleagues’ similar research.

When we ask students to do research, are we concerned with voice?  Tom spoke of that as being of paramount importance, and lacking from the majority of research work that high school and college students do, yet such a small percentage of people actually ever do that type of research when they leave college.  There is a point there; let’s prepare them for their futures by equipping them with the research skills, including both digital and traditional (if they are still relevant), that will make their lives in college and beyond much more rewarding.

And, above all, let’s make it mean something to them.


4 thoughts on “The Pre-Beta Release

  1. Great post Patrick. Looks like you have a model worth exploring with your staff. I wish you well as you lead them forward. These are the issues facing us here in Australia too. How do we prepare our students adequately for the world they will be entering? This is why it is vital that Teacher Librarians stay a step ahead and lead the learning in their schools. If I still had my head in the sand I know that none of the students in my school would have any knowledge of delicious or Google Docs and Notebook ,or Searchme and their stacks feature. They wouldn’t know because nobody else is bothering to learn about this stuff! And it’s so important. I love that I can lead the learning and will continue to do so. Teachers I work with are starting to take notice. Small steps, but important ones.

    Jenny Luca.

  2. Patrick: The research you’re doing to formulate your “beta release” is awesome. You’re acting like the world is your “Media Center” and it is completely usable while it’s still under construction. The voice in this write-up of your ‘field research” is highly readable, engaging and provocative– for us readers to upgrade our own thinking. You are being an exemplar of what I have in mind when I advocate “real-world prep over college-prep”. You’re in the process of deciding and designing things, not writing a paper. Your researching serves something beyond “doing research” and thus embodies more intrinsic motivation, rewards and challenges.

    I’m delighted with you’re supporting students’ questions about the relevance of tools, rather than the rote use of them. Pacing the growth individually into more independent approaches will get better results than herding all the students en masse. Your design looks great for meeting your objective of “let’s prepare them for their futures by equipping them with the research skills … that will make their lives in college and beyond much more rewarding”.

    The temporary closing of the media center creates another kind of opportunity besides the switch to digital resources you’re taking advantage of here. The real world often involves researching colleagues, employees, or customers. The “research topic” may be opposing sides of a disagreement, misunderstandings of what was announced, varied interpretations of an incident, alternative diagnoses of the “real problem” or preferred choices when offered alternatives. Student practice for that kind of research could involve interviews with their friends, parents and other students. It could help with forthcoming choices they’ll make between colleges, majors, campus activities, concurrent employment prospects, and new friends. It could prepare them to habitually ask, explore, uncover and rethink what they’re facing. Then they would be following your example here in researching to finalize your “beta release”. It would strike a good balance, in my mind, between college prep and real world prep.

  3. Wonderful synthesis of ideas, Patrick. I, like Tom, love that you’re modeling a more informal voice for research writing, one that is much more readable–more approachable. The diagram is wonderful. I look forward to reading more.

  4. McKenzie is such an odd duck. On one hand, he seems to understand good thinking and tools. And on the other? Well…He presented at my school last year. He makes fun of educational technology…is VERY anti-blog, anti-wiki, or anything else that smells of social networking. I couldn’t understand why he was so snotty about these things while pushing a “relevancy” agenda at the same time.

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