Vol 7|No 2|October|1997
The Research Cycle
Note: This article appeared originally as part of a larger article, "We Weave the Web" in Educational Leadership, November, 1996. Copyright, Jamie McKenzie, 1996, All rights reserved.
We (the Bellingham (WA) Schools learned quickly that old approaches to student research were inadequate to meet the essential learning goals set by the district and were ill suited to the information rich environment we had created with our 1500 PC WAN (wide area network). With all those computers and all of those classrooms connected to great information on CD-ROMs and the Internet, we needed to re-invent our concept of research, upgrading the questioning and elevating the reasoning required while adding a "teaming" component.
We have been engaging teachers in a staff development course titled "Launching Student Investigations." This course was based upon the Research Cycle first published in Multimedia Schools (McKenzie, 1995):
We teach teams of students to move repeatedly through each of the steps of the RESEARCH CYCLE below:
SORTING & SIFTING
(After several repetitions lead to INSIGHT)*
*All of these phases were described in more detail in a 6 part series of articles published by Technology Connection (McKenzie, April '95 - December '95).
We find that most research used to be topical. Students were asked to "go find out about" Dolly Madison or Connecticut. These assignments turned students into simple "word movers." New technologies make word moving - "cutting and pasting" - even more ridiculous. We now emphasize research questions which require either problem-solving or decision-making. Examples: How might we restore the salmon harvest? Which New England city should our family move to?
The student team spends time carving up the question in subsidiary questions. They ask where the best information might lie? What sources are likely to provide the most insight with the most efficiency? Which resources are reliable? How will they sort, sift and store their findings? (database? word processing file?)
If the planning has been thoughtful and productive, the team proceeds to good information sites swiftly and efficiently, gathering only that information which is relevant and useful. Otherwise, teams might wander for many hours, scooping up hundreds of files which will later prove frustrating and valueless.
It is critically important that findings me structured AS THEY ARE GATHERED. Putting this task off until later is very dangerous when coping with INFO-GLUT. It is also important that the team only use the Internet when that is likely to provide the best information. In many cases, books and CD-ROMs will prove more efficient and useful.
SORTING & SIFTING
The more complex the research question, the more important the sorting and sifting which provides the data to support the next stage - synthesis. Some selecting and sorting took place during the previous stage - gathering - but now the team moves toward even more systematic scanning and organizing of data to set aside that which is most likely to contribute to INSIGHT. The team sorts and sifts the information much as a fishing boat must cull the harvest brought to the surface in a net (McKenzie, 1994).
In a process akin to jigsaw puzzling, the student arranges and rearranges the information fragments until patterns and some kind of picture begin to emerge.
Synthesis is fueled by the tension of a powerful research question.
At this point, the team asks if more research is needed before proceeding to the REPORTING stage. In the case of complex and demanding research questions, it often requires several repetitions of the CYCLE. The time for the reporting and sharing of insights is determined by the quality of the "information harvest" during this EVALUATION stage.
As multimedia presentation software becomes readily available to our schools and our students, we are seeing movement toward persuasive presentations. The research team, charged with making a decision or creating a solution, reports its findings and its recommendations to an audience of decision-makers (simulated or real).
Two excellent additional print sources to expand the reader's understanding of information problem-solving would be Michael Eisenberg's Big Six model (1990)(http://edweb.sdsu.edu/edfirst/bigsix/bigsix.html) and Marty and Jacqueline Brooks' 1993 ASCD (http://www.ascd.org/) publication: In Search of Understanding: the Case for Constructivist Classrooms. An electronic source would be the WWW page devoted to constructivist learning (http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/LT/webcurr.html/)
We see great movement toward information literacy as the information landscape shifts with powerful new technologies. The importance of library media specialists grows dramatically as information systems shift and research becomes central to student-centered. constructivist classrooms. The journey will probably take a full five years of staff development, team planning and invention, but it is a journey well worth undertaking. The pay-off for this investment is the graduation of a generation prepared to make their own meanings in an often confusing, rapidly changing world.
Brooks, M. and Brooks, J. (1993). In Search of Understanding: the Case for Constructivist Classrooms . ASCD, Alexandria, VA.
Eisenberg, M. and Berkowitz, R. (1990). Information Problem-Solving: The Big Six Skills Approach to Library and Information Skills Instruction. Abblex Publishing, Norwood, NJ)
McKenzie, J. (1993). "Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Range Free Students." From Now On,, December.
McKenzie, J. (1994). "Culling the Net: A Lesson on the Dark Side." From Now On,, February.
McKenzie, J. (1995). "BeforeNet and AfterNet." Multimedia Schools, June.