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What is Inquiry?
My Research
Key Competencies

Part of my research involved a literature review. Any pertinent information I encountered has been included in the relevant sections of this website. More details of information I found are included on this page. The research on this page is pre-2007. I will shortly be updating with more current research.


ICT-rich Environment for Inquiry-based Learning

When thinking about what constitutes an ICT-rich environment when implementing inquiry learning we need to look first at what constitutes a constructivist classroom environment. Wilson (1995) defines this as " a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities."

Taylor’s (1980) described   three different modes of computer use, tutor, tool and tutee. Much early use of computers involved the computer as a tutor. When being used as a tool however, the computer saves the learner time by completing low level tasks quickly and easily allowing the learner to focus on higher order tasks: “When students use computers to find, sort, sift and analyse information then the computer becomes a conduit for knowledge construction rather than a communicator of knowledge” (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992).

So which tools and information sources are needed for inquiry-based learning, which aspects of technology can be useful in a constructivist learning environment? One way ICT is used as an information resource (Wilson, 1995) or as an information bank (Perkins, 1992) is to access to primary sources of information. Examples of primary sources which can be easily accessed using technology are discussions with experts via e-mail, phone or video conference, online databases and repositories of information such as letters, photographs, diaries, and research reports.

Projects such as ‘CoVis’ project (Pea, Edelson & Gomez,1994) and  the ‘Kids as Global Scientists’ (KAGS) project (Songer, 1996), have used the internet as a communication tool to connect students with people and primary information sources around the world. The findings from the KAGS project, which used internet telecommunications resources to enable students to make weather predictions, were that "use of real-time resources and firsthand information has the potential to influence the character of student understandings" (p324).

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The Internet

The 1998 Annual American ‘Teaching, Learning and Computing Survey’ (Ravitz, Wong, & Becker, 1998) found that the highest level of student use of the internet for research came where there was high speed internet access from within the classroom. This is not a problem for most schools in New Zealand. The ‘ICT in Schools Report’ (2020 Communications Trust, 2005). found that all schools had access to the internet and 78% of primary schools and 93% of secondary schools had high speed internet access.

 Students expressed a preference for both the internet and books. Most liked the web because it was faster, and easier than searching in books. It was also more accessible - they didn't have to visit the library. Some students however found it easier to find information in a book. They were frustrated with the net when they couldn't find the exact information they were looking for (Large & Beheshti, 2000).

 Many studies have highlighted the difficulties students have locating, sorting and sifting information from the internet and then applying it to the task (Fidel et al., 1999; Wallace, Kupperman, Krajcik, & Soloway, 2000; Watson, 1998). Salomon & Almog (1998) talk about the ‘butterfly defect’ noting how internet users flitted from one page to another. "One item just leads to another, and one is invited to wander from one item to another, lured by the visual appeal of the presentation.” This was supported by Bilal’s (2001) research which found that students had difficulties with large amounts of text and jumped frequently and quickly between sites not searching in depth within sites.

 Agosto (2002) found that students stopped searching when they found the information they wanted but also because of tiredness, physical discomfort and boredom. These latter factors caused students to stop searching before they found the information they sought. Those sites with large amounts of text bored them. Agosto (2002) suggests that students’ limited search behaviour was a strategy they used to cope with the large amounts of information on the net.

 A number of studies have found that students often tried to find the exact answer to their question rather than collecting information from which they could deduce an answer. (Bilal, 2001; Fidel et al., 1999; Wallace et al., 2000). Hirsch (1999) believes that students have trouble finding information that is not an exact fit with the question because they are in Piaget's concrete operational stage.

 Children who are in this concrete-operational stage seek information that exactly matches their own search terms or the terminology used by the teacher or in the assignment. In other words, they are concrete thinkers and have trouble with anything that is not an exact fit with their understanding of the question. (Hirsch, 1999, p.1279)

 Scaffolding and support have been shown to aid students in their web-searches (McGregor & Lou, 2004; Oliver, 1999 as cited in Hill, Wiley, Nelson & Han 2004 p. 446). Jones (2002 as cited in Kuiper, Volman,. & Terwel, 2005) found that students, when searching on the web, needed a combination of pre-selected sites and opportunities to search freely.

 This was found to be especially true in inquiry-based learning. "Students require ongoing support to develop and refine their search strategies, which is often a critical component of their inquiry activities." (Hoffman, Wu, Krajcik, & Soloway, 2003 p. 341) They continued by saying:

 Teachers could provide more support to students as they attempt to make sense of information in an environment [the internet] that does not foster the construction of understanding but merely provides information. Teachers should require students occasionally to suspend their on-line activities to have conversations about the information they are encountering… Through participation in these types of conversations, teachers can mediate student learning to enhance or correct in-process constructions of understanding… it is clear that students can benefit from access to on-line resources when extensive support and scaffolding are provided by the teacher. (p. 343)

Students also had difficulties sorting ‘good’ web sites from ‘bad’ Students used inappropriate criteria to evaluate web sites judging them on appearance rather than on accuracy and currency. They also tended to dismiss sites with large quantities of text (Agosto, 2002). Students did not question the reliability and accuracy of sites and needed to be taught to do this (Watson, 1998). 

Along with the concern about students’ ability to evaluate accuracy and currency of websites go concerns about internet safety. Schools usually approach this problem by filtering the internet, internet safety policies and procedures, teaching students’ safe searching strategies or a combination of both. (Balfour, 2002). The 2005 “ICT in Schools Report” found that “nearly all [New Zealand] schools also have an Internet safety policy or strategy (91% primary and 96% secondary” (2020 Communications Trust, 2005).

Internet filtering can sometimes filter useful information and some students can see it as a challenge to find ways around filters (Balfour, 2002). Bauer & Kenton’s (2005) survey of teacher opinions found that though 100% of the teachers surveyed praised the internet, some expressed concerns that internet filtering could hinder what they were doing in the classroom.

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Computer Ratios

The 2005 ratio of computers to students in New Zealand primary schools was1:5 and 80% of those were connected to the internet (2020 Communications Trust, 2005). However this included computers used solely for administration and those in computer labs so is not an accurate representation of the number of computers in classrooms.

 Becker (2000) found that there needed to be at least five computers in a classroom before teachers became regular users of computers (teachers also needed a constructivist teaching philosophy and a reasonable level of computer skills). This was supported by Norris, Sullivan, Poirot & Soloway (2003) who found that the biggest predictor of technology use was the number of computers in the classroom. They found that at least six computers were required to achieve more than sporadic use. Ravitz, Wong and Becker (1998) found that there needed to be at least four internet-capable computers in the classroom to achieve high student use of the internet for research and/or web- posting.

 Numerous studies (Cradler, McNabb, Freeman, & Burchett 2002; Dalton, Hannafin & Hooper 1989; Falloon 2004; Hooper 1993; Inkpen, Booth, Klawe & Upitis 1995) have shown that students working cooperatively on computers perform significantly better than those working individually. Inkpen et al. (1995) for example, found that children working together on one computer when working on a puzzle solving game solved significantly more puzzles than those working individually. Bruder (1992) quotes Professor Simon Hooper as saying: "Providing a computer for each child may, in fact, hold back that child's performance, because they then lose the benefits of working in a small group."

 Collaborative pairs have been found to be the most effective grouping when students work on computers. Gary Falloon (2004) found that collaborative pairs working on computers were the most efficient. Input from members decreased as group size increased. Falloon (2003 as cited in Falloon; 2004) found that students working in stable cooperative pairs had higher task application and showed more collaborative approaches to the task. “Groups with three or more students generally worked less effectively, with the input of each group member of the group diminishing as the group size increased” (Falloon, 2004 p.34)

 Falloon (2004) found that having more than two students per computer resulted in some children not actively involved. He notes that some students actively used this to their advantage:

 ’Cruising’ was a known strategy amongst some larger groups, whereby they organized their labour so that one of the group was able to ‘sit out’ a session or part of a session while the other members of the group completed the task. (p.34)


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Laptops versus Desktops

The CHAOS Digital Opportunities project (Stanley, 2005) involves the use of tablet computers by primary-aged students. Year seven and eight students were asked about the advantages and disadvantages of using the tablets. Some of these features, like the ability to write with a stylus directly onto the laptop, apply only to tablets, but many of the other items mentioned apply equally to other laptop computers. Advantages mentioned by students were portability and that they were motivating to use. Disadvantages included having to get them out and set them up, charging batteries, weight and the lack of a separate mouse.

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ICTs Supporting Inquiry

Woolsey and Bellamy (1997) found that “technology supported the teacher in centering her curriculum on an inquiry process and enabled students to develop their inquiry on the basis of their own observations (p. 389). They also found that the data projector encouraged student collaboration and group inquiry by facilitating sharing of information.

 Multimedia presentations combining narration with either text or graphics have been shown to be more effective than text alone in facilitating retention and transfer of knowledge (Moreno & Mayer, 1999).  However cognitive overload can occur if there is input from too many sources at once eg. animation, narration and background music simultaneously being presented (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).

 Hopson, Simms and Knezek (2001) found that a technology-enriched environment had a significant effect on students’ higher-order thinking skills at the evaluation level of Bloom’s taxonomy. The teachers in the study reported that the learning was more student-centred. They also noted that the environment facilitated use of cooperative groups and allowed students to focus on knowledge application rather than knowledge acquisition.

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