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Edusearch: Setting information seeking tasks

A significant area of research for me over the last 5 years has been in the exploration of ‘searching to learn’ – how students use of search engines can be educational in nature. The ability to find and evaluate information isn’t only important as a modern lifelong learner, it also tells us something about how learners think about problems, how they try to understand, navigate, and judge the credibility of the many claims they encounter on a day to day basis.

So, when I think about searching to learn, I’m interested in going beyond thinking about search as just “looking stuff up”. Instead, we want to think about the complexities of understanding information, and how to create complex search problems. Dan Russell (at Google) wrote some great posts on this issue, e.g. “Why knowing search isn’t the same as having an education“, “We must go deeper: Why search is always going to be tricky“, “Internet search: What makes it simple, difficult or impossible?“. This all fits into the wider concern about what it means to be literate in the age of Google (great talk by Dan Russell), and what does it mean to ‘know’ (a talk I gave, and a chapter on the same).

There are some nice games on info seeking, and the fantastic agoogleday (sets complex fact-oriented – i.e., there is a correct answer – search problems), and Dan’s ‘search challenges‘. My research has also developed some key outputs, and (the first 2 links below) some tips and ideas on developing search based learning activities, this is as good a place as any to collate those :-).

The EDUSearch Project is the project name of the work conducted as part of my PhD research in collaboration with Dirk Tempelaar at the University of Maastricht, Chirag Shah and Matthew Mitsui at Rutgers University, and my supervisory team at the OU – it’s a totally post-hoc acronym 🙂 : Epistemic Discourse for Understanding Search

Using the internet to do research – some tips, ideas, tools, comments

I published this (a bit modified) as an appendix to Rupert Wegerif’s chapter

Knight, S. (2013). Appendix C7.1: Resources for Searching with the Internet. In S. Hennessy, P. Warwick, L. Brown, D. Rawlins, & C. Neale (Eds.), Developing interactive teaching and learning using the IWB. Open University Press.
It provides some thoughts on teacher tips for designing search-based learning activities.

in the information seeking literature, a systematic review of the literature (Wildemuth & Freund, 2012) on eliciting exploratory search notes suggests some key lessons for task design:

  1. Tasks should be focused on learning and investigation
  2. Context and situation should be specified but the topic or request may introduce enough ambiguity and open-endedness to produce exploratory behaviors
  3. Multiple facets should be included in the task and search topic
  4. Possibility for eliciting dynamic and multi-stage search should be considered; in some cases tasks can be written to provoke this, but this will not always be the most appropriate approach
  5. Data collection and evaluation should be aligned with the goals of the task

edu-search

The blog category I put ‘searching to learn’ posts under.

Collaborative Epistemic Discourse in Classroom Information Seeking Tasks

We discuss the relationship between information seeking, and epistemic beliefs – beliefs about the source, structure, complexity, and stability of knowledge – in the context of collaborative information seeking discourses. We further suggest that both information seeking, and epistemic cognition research agendas have suffered from a lack of attention to how information seeking as a collaborative activity is mediated by talk between partners – an area we seek to address in this paper. A small-scale observational study using sociocultural discourse analysis was conducted with eight eleven year old pupils who carried out search engine tasks in small groups. Qualitative and quantitative analysis were performed on their discussions using sociocultural discourse analytic techniques. Extracts of the dialogue are reported, informed by concordance analysis and quantitative coding of dialogue duration. We find that 1) discourse which could be characterised as ‘epistemic’ is identifiable in student talk, 2) that it is possible to identify talk which is more or less productive, and 3) that epistemic talk is associated with positive learning outcomes.

Learning Through Collaborative Information Seeking

This chapter discusses Collaborative Information Seeking (CIS) from an educational perspective. Our core claim is that CIS has the potential to bring together rich collaborative, and multimodal, contexts in which important learning processes may take place. We thus see CIS as more than just an activity with potential to ‘speed up’ information seeking, or contribute to effective division of labour. This claim is independent of the particular classroom subject, or the form of technological mediation; rather, the chapter provides a focus on some key considerations in collaborative learning that should be of interest to both educators and those interested in the ‘benefits’ of CIS. This chapter first outlines our broad educational interest in elements of CIS, connecting that to the focal points of CIS research. We go on to highlight the importance of dialogue as a tool for learning, before discussing the complexities of understanding ‘success’ in CIS tasks, and then specifically the role that dialogue has played so far in CIS research. We conclude with a call to researchers in both CIS and education to explore the nature of learning in CIS contexts, making use of a rich understanding of the importance of dialogue to create meaning together.

The role of exploratory talk in classroom search engine tasks

While search engines are commonly used by children to find information, and in classroom based activities, children are not adept in their information seeking or evaluation of information sources. Prior work has explored such activities in isolated, individual contexts, – failing to account for the collaborative, discourse-mediated nature of search engine use, which is common in classroom contexts. This small-scale study explored the established ‘typology of talk’, – particularly ‘exploratory talk’, – in a classroom search context. We found that the most successful pupils were those who engaged in the most exploratory talk. This finding has practical classroom implications: the collaborative nature of search and potential of collaboration and discourse should be exploited in search-based tasks. This study also indicates a rich area for future research.

Thinking, Interthinking, and Technological Tools

Language use is widely regarded as an important indicator of high quality learning and reasoning ability. Yet this masks an irony: language is fundamentally a social, collaborative tool, yet despite the widespread recognition of its importance in relation to learning, the role of dialogue is undervalued in learning contexts. In this chapter we argue that to see language as only a tool for individual thought presents a limited view of its transformative power. This power, we argue, lies in the ways in which dialogue is used to interthink – that is, to think together, to build knowledge co-constructively through our shared understanding. Technology can play an important role in resourcing thinking through the provision of information, and support to provide a space to think alone. It can moreover provide significant support for learners to build shared representations together, particularly through giving learners access to a wealth of ‘given’ inter-related texts which resource the co-construction of knowledge.

Finding knowledge – what is it to ‘know’ when we search?

The issue of the epistemological implications of our social and technical interactions with information is the subject of this essay. This will be specified by looking at the role of the search engine as an informant, offering testimonial knowledge on a query; at the question of how the receiver of testimony should be taken into account by those giving the information; and how we should deal with multiplicity of perspectives, or indeed gaps in our knowledge.

We should seek to understand the nature of ‘knowledge’, and how informants – including non-human informants – mediate our understanding of the world around us, and have always done so. This essay turns to these questions, discussing some issues with researching technological changes, and then what role search functions fulfill, and how such functions affect our own understanding of ‘knowledge’.

Such an analysis has profound implications, for example in education. Under what circumstances do we accept that students ‘know’ something; how we do we decide that they know (that is, how do educators claim knowledge on their student’s knowledge states); but also what sort of knowledge is important important to know in such a situation, these are all important questions. Furthermore, how we think about the future of such technology and the ways that technology might change what we know (for better or worse) is important.


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