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LTEA in SL: Research process model

Page history last edited by Sheila Webber 14 years, 9 months ago

This page has material relating to part of the third session of activities in the Second Life Track of the Learning Through Enquiry Alliance 2008 conference. One element was a mini-tour of a 3D model of the research process that I (Sheila Webber/ Sheila Yoshikawa) had made for use with the first year class BSc Information Management. I put this together for a session in a core 1st year semester 2 module called "Inquiry in Information Management". Students were carrying out mini-projects and learning about the steps in research. The model provided objects for discussion about different stages, and also prompted some key questions to do with the research process: the picture below shows me about to cross the bridge to qualitative research!


The following information was provided to delegates in notecards (notecards are Second Life textual handouts). The chatlog was also recorded and and can be found at http://sleeds.org/chatlog/?c=306


Model of the steps of research



Author: Sheila Yoshikawa (SL)/ Sheila Webber (RL, Senior Lecturer, Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield); June 2008


In this session I will highlight some approaches and issues to do with using IBL approaches with an undergraduate cohort. I will mostly do this by using the work-in-progress model of the research process I have put together.


Although the entire BSc IM programme is not IBL based, it has a strong problem-based focus, and we have been increasing the IBL focus over the past couple of years. We are aiming to increase engagement with the discipline, and to enhance the inquiry skills of the students.


I have reproduced in a separate notecard the extended abstract [ see below] of a session I am delivering at the First Year Experience in Higher Education conference in Hobart, Australia on 1 July 2008, since this summarises a number of the issues. I also recently gave a talk at the ESCALATE conference (on slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/sheilawebber/an-inquiry-based-approach-in-a-first-year-undergraduate-class/)

Just to give some bullet points here (some might seem a bit obvious, but still worth mentioning):


- Although we couldn’t say that every student was magically engaged by the IBL approach, there was a noticeable (to us, plus student feedback bears this out) increase in interest and engagement. Students took evident pride in outcomes of their research, they did some excellent work and provided comments (through focus groups and reflective work) to indicate that they had become more aware of the value of the discipline and enjoyed the challenge and novelty of doing “real” research.


- The IBL approach can stimulate a range of students.


- You do need to scaffold the students’ work: we certainly feel that all the sessions which explicitly develop understanding of different processes were needed (writing in different ways, using technologies, developing information literacy, developing specific types of inquiry skill etc.) Progression of skills and iteration seem worthwhile.


- Our IBL focused modules (the 1st year Information Literacy and Inquiry in Information Management; the 3rd year research methods and dissertation modules) are coursework-only assessed. There are other modules which similarly have no exam, and the remainder are 60% coursework, 40% exam. Personally I don’t think IBL can really be compatible with setting unseen exams.


- Working with other faculty who are interested in teaching and want to develop their practice is a definite advantage: certainly one big issue in developing a whole-curriculum IBL approach would be dealing with colleagues who were against changing what they do.


- This is a small cohort (20-25 students each year). It involved a number of staff (e.g. co-teaching, plus all the discussions between sessions). We have been asked about scalability: although a large class would require more staff, it wouldn’t be exponential. However, there would be a problem in finding a suitable, flexible phsyical space for a large cohort (not a trivial issue).


Exploring the research steps model Exploring the research steps model



Using inquiry-based approaches with first year undergraduates

Sheila Webber, University of Sheffield

Session to be presented at the First Year Experience in Higher Education Conference, Hobart, Australia, 1 July 2008.

Extended abstract copyright Sheila Webber


The session will focus on issues emerging from the use of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) approaches in first year classes. The starting point will be the presenter’s experiences with a first year Information Management cohort, described below. The points which are proposed for discussion are:

•    The feasibility of students forming research questions, and engaging in meaningful research, in their first year of study;

•    The value of using Web 2.0 tools and environments within an IBL context; including weblogs and the virtual world, Second Life.


Background: the class

The class which will provide the focus for introducing this session is a BSc Information Management class at the University of Sheffield, UK; a class of about 20 students. We had identified, through observation and student feedback, that one issue impacting engagement and performance at level one was a rather fundamental one: lack of understanding of, and interest in, information management (IM) as a discipline.


IM is not a subject taught in schools, and additionally a percentage of our students come to us through “clearing” (i.e. they make their choice after they have received their examination results, rather than it being a longer term planned decision: this may be because their results are either better or worse than they expected).

The BSc Information Management had originally been conceived as a particularly flexible degree at level 1, with only 50% of the credits taken in the Department. Assessment is primarily through coursework, and there was already a strong focus on progressing communication, IT, information literacy and  team working skills, with a problem-based approach. Although retention and pass rates were reasonably high, we felt that improvements could be made, and we also wanted to encourage better attendance in class.


IBL approaches

The biggest change was the introduction in 2006/7of a new core Semester 2 module, Inquiry in Information Management. This was introduced with support from Sheffield’s Centre for Inquiry Based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences (CILASS). CILASS is one of the Centres for Excellence in  Teaching and Learning currently funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and CILASS received an award of £4.5 million over a period of five years (see http://www.shef.ac.uk/cilass/). The presenter is currently a CILASS Fellow.


A four person team planned and implemented the Inquiry in Information Management module, and the module was evaluated with the aid of CILASS, through focus groups, observation and reflection (e.g. through a teaching team blog, see http://inquiry-in-im.group.shef.ac.uk/team/). A case study on this module is presented at http://www.shef.ac.uk/cilass/cases/informationmanagement.html  The module requires the students to choose a research question within the IM field and then, in small groups, to undertake and report an original investigation on that topic. Understanding of the inquiry process is supported through sessions in class and through online resources. Techniques such as mindmapping are used, and the learning space is particularly flexible in enabling students to use technologies and other tools such as huddle boards.


Initially students explore their existing understanding of IM and research, and go on to explore research cycle using a specified research topic. Having identified their own research questions, they are supported through the process of desk and original research. Advice is given to the groups by the teaching team, and by visiting experts. The class culminates in presentation of research posters to staff and research students in the Department.  Students participate in developing the assessment criteria for the posters and also contribute to the marking of work. Other assessment methods are blogs and individual portfolios.


In 2007/8 changes were additionally made to a core Semester 1 module, Information Literacy, to strengthen the IBL focus. As might be expected, the module already aimed to develop the students’ information literacy (ability to recognise when they needed information, find and evaluate information, use it ethically and appropriately) and thus was already contributing to students’ ability to take an IBL approach.


In 2007/8 students also focused on interviewing (both as a data collection technique, and a communications process) and undertook research interviews in the virtual world, Second Life (SL). These were critical incident interviews, asking SL residents to reflect on a time when they needed information for an activity within SL. Part of the assessment for the class was a reflection on the interview process and an analysis of the two transcripts; in particular, comparing results with research models of Real Life information behaviour. Evaluation of this intervention was not complete at time of writing.


In terms of meeting our goals of increased interest in IM as a discipline, and increased engagement with learning, there were indicators that we have had some success. The pride that the students took in their research posters is evident in the pictures we took at the final event (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/cilass/tags/informationstudies/), and the quality of the posters was good to excellent. The process by which the students developed criteria to mark the posters was particularly worthwhile: as well as producing good quality work, the students and staff evidently (from the marks they assigned) gained a common understanding of the marking scheme.


Whilst there were limits to the depth and breadth of the research being carried out, students investigated novel areas (e.g. Facebook, mobile phones) where there is still much to be explored. Students said that they enjoyed researching their own choice of topic, although they also found it challenging. Some students also reported seeing the subject and possible career directions in a more favourable light . The input from IM consultants (visiting speakers), who took the students work seriously, was particularly motivating for students. Attendance was also good in comparison with other modules.


Therefore the teaching team felt that the IBL approach was justified. Disadvantages of the approach include the larger amount of staff time needed to support students through the research process. Further learning needs (e.g. learning to read academic articles) were also surfaced. Additionally, we decided that we needed to discuss the IBL approach itself more explicitly with students, to help them understand the reduced  focus on “teaching content”. In 2007/8 the latter aspect was addressed in week 1 by asking students to imagine they are academic staff designing an IBL module, and identify what should be in it.


Value of Web 2.0 within an IBL context

Web 2.0 tools are generally defined as online applications which enable sharing and creation of content, and which facilitate communication, whether for social or work purposes.

In the classes discussed here, blogs were used as (assessed) vehicles for student communication, reflection and publication and the virtual world, Second Life, was used as a learning environment for development of communication and research skills (see https://portal104.shef.ac.uk/content/1/c6/07/93/44/J22144%20crucIBL%20Newsletter.pdf for statements about aspirations for this initiative). Students also used an online journal function in the Virtual Learning Environment, WebCT, and discussion boards (to which they posted comments and content in various sessions).


In 2006/7 the students used group blogs, through which they had to report progress on their projects. The quality of the blog work was lower than the poster: we think partly because there was less class time devoted to developing approaches to blogging (than to producing effective posters). In 2007/8 the activity is being set off more explicitly in class, and we have moved from group to individual blogs to encourage all students to develop their blogging skills.


Additionally in 2007/8 the teaching team integrated more active use of other Web 2.0 elements. An example is given at http://good.group.shef.ac.uk/wiki/index.php/Introducing_students_to_the_idea_of_research where a week one exercise is described: students explore the concept of “research” using images from flickr.


Observations on use of web 2.0 include the following. A survey of our first year students showed that whilst they are very familiar with some applications (e.g. Facebook) they have limited knowledge of other applications (e.g. blogging). None of the 2007/8 students had used a virtual world before being introduced to Second Life in class. Therefore it cannot be assumed that students will use Web 2.0 applications effectively without support, and our experience is that they need to learn about the value and applications of Web 2.0 tools, as well as basics of how to use them.


Students also benefited from discussion of the affective and ethical issues raised by Web 2.0 tools: this was particularly true in the case of Second Life, but discussion of intellectual property and plagiarism were also valuable, and probably more interesting when discussed in the context of Web 2.0 applications.

Web 2.0 tools do seem valuable in IBL since they enable students to practice processes of evaluation, search, synthesis and creation; surfacing research questions and challenges in a way that may be more immediately engaging to the students. They can be used to encourage students to reflect on issues such reliability of information, or effectiveness in communication, comparing the use of one application with another.


However, we confirmed the need to chose appropriate tools to meet our learning goals, and to explain the relevance of using the tools. In order to support the students and design appropriate interventions, staff need to have confidence in using Web 2.0 tools and an understanding of how they can be used creatively in learning and teaching.

Whilst the presenter was encouraged by feedback from students that use of Second Life did indeed have a certain “cool” factor, the activities in SL needed to have a pedagogic rationale that could be understood by the students. She was therefore encouraged by the fact that students, in their assignments, were able to comment on the specific challenges and benefits of interviewing in a virtual environment, and also were able to analyse their SL interview transcripts and (in some cases) produce some genuinely novel insights in the emergent field of information behaviour in virtual worlds.


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