How can ICT support inquiry learning? This was the question I hoped to answer with my e-fellows research into ways teachers and students used ICT to facilitate inquiry learning in ICT-rich environments. Information from my participation in the Kopu Digital Opportunities project has also informed my conclusions.
When deciding what an ICT-rich environment should look like we need to ask ourselves what tools we need to facilitate inquiry-based learning. We need to ask what tasks students need to complete, what kinds of thinking they need to do, what strategies they need to employ and how technology can help.
"The technology is not the focus of the learning, but it provides an essential vehicle for getting to the destination ...The inquiry - what the student wants to learn - provides the fuel for the vehicle. Without fuel the vehicle is useless."
Owens, Hester & Teale, 2002
During my case study research the most important item of ICT I found was the internet. For one group of students the internet helped overcome the barrier of topic complexity as the year 6 and 7 students worked on a question related to the cloning of endangered species. Student-friendly sites and a great genetics tutorial greatly aided their knowledge of this complex topic.
For the second group the internet provided access to a topical issue (Whether Napier Marineland should get a new dolphin) that would have been difficult to resource otherwise. It also provided a number of different points of view which aided the students' decision-making. E-mails to the groups involved (Marineland and the Napier City Council) and access to video clips on the TV One and TV3 sites were important sources of information for the group. For both groups the internet was the major source of information as the books and other resources on these topics were very limited. The results of these student inquiries can be seen on the Public pages of the Opoutere School KnowledgeNET.
Teachers I interviewed also extolled the virtues of the internet for inquiry, especially the currency of information and multi-media aspects of the net:
"It's up-to-date, for topics such as space like we’re doing at the moment some of the information hasn’t been published, not in books for children. That’s demonstrated very well with space, there’s always new stuff coming in so it’s up-to-date and you’re reaching a wider variety of opinions, sources of information." (Teacher 2)
"It’s up-to-date. It’s just a rich resource that we’re unable to get through books because of our isolation. A lot of the sites are interactive so it helps with the engagement process as well. For example, if you’re learning about volcanoes you can make one blow up in your class now instead of just reading about them blowing up." (Teacher 1)
Some of my key findings were that while working on inquiry-based topics the internet aided the students in:
For a discussion on student web searches see the Guided Inquiry page.
If the internet is the most useful item of ICT for teachers and students when implementing inquiry then it follows that computers are needed in order to access the internet.
Based on the results of my research, and the existing research on this topic, I have come to the conclusion that a ratio of 1:2 computers to students is the ideal ratio to aim for in the classroom when implementing inquiry learning. I also believe that 1:6 should be the minimum ratio if there is to be any significant effect on student learning. There are two main reasons for for my conclusion. Firstly, research (Becker, 2000) has shown that at least five computers are needed in classrooms before there is significant use by teachers and at least four computers are needed before there is high student use for research purposes (Ravitz, Wong and Becker,1998). Secondly, I believe that co-operative pairs are the most effective grouping for inquiry learning using computers. This is backed by Gary Falloon's (2004) findings. For more detailed information on the research behind my conclusion see What Other Research Says.
This is not to say that inquiry learning cannot be implemented using fewer computers, there are many teachers doing so with only one computer (or even none) in their classrooms, but it requires a lot more effort and careful timetabling. Some of the ways teachers have dealt with the problem of low computer numbers are discussed on the Solutions page.
Having such a high ratio does not necessarily mean that there needs to 12 - 15 computers in every classroom. This would be an unrealistic expectation for many schools because of space and cost considerations. Ways that this ratio can be achieved are discussed in the next section Classrooms, Cows and Computer Labs.
“Imagine saying to your students, ‘Okay class, now we’re all going to get up and go down the hall to the room where the pens are.”
Mary Cuillane (Microsoft)
My personal belief is that computer labs are not the answer to improving computer ratios. The research (Becker, 2000; Norris, Sullivan, Poirot & Soloway, 2003; Ravitz, Wong and Becker,1998) supports computers being located in classrooms if they are going to be used by teachers and students. Additionally, having computers in labs means it is not as easy to integrate computers into the classroom programme or for teachers and students to use them as they would any other classroom tool for inquiry.
My suggestion would be a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio in the classroom and then a shared mobile pod of wireless laptops to bring the ratio down to 1:2 when needed. This solution is a lower cost alternative, takes less space and the computers would be able to move to areas of need rather than lying idle (McKenzie, 2001). Given that in 2005 New Zealand schools had an average ratio of 1:5 computers (including administration computers) (2020 Communications Trust, 2005), achieving a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio in classrooms should be achievable for most schools, especially as the costs of computers continues to decline.
Three of the five teachers I interviewed for my research were using wireless laptops as well as desktops in their classrooms. Their students had been using both types of computer for times ranging between 12 and 18 months. When the teachers were asked whether they preferred laptops or desktops for student use, they all said they preferred the laptops. The reasons they gave were portability – the ability for students to work anywhere, that they were used as a resource and that they took up less space.
Students in two of these classes (43 students) were asked their preference. They had been using laptops for over a year so novelty value was unlikely to be a factor in their choices. By far the majority of students chose laptops (see Fig. 1).
Interactive Whiteboards and Data Projectors
This section relates to my research findings. If you want to find out more about interactive whiteboards and their uses, including uses other than inquiry, see the Interactive Whiteboards page.
The teachers I interviewed who were using interactive whiteboards were very enthusiastic about them. The boards were used by both teachers and students during all stages of the inquiry. The teachers listed a number of features that were useful for inquiry-based learning. Some benefits related specifically to interactive whiteboards. The ability for teachers or students to write or type on the board, save the results, then refer back to them later was seen as very useful, as was the ability to manipulate information using the board. The software that came with the boards was also seen as a very useful resource.
Other benefits mentioned could be achieved with a data projector. These include the large screen size so that everyone could see at once and the ability for teachers and students to share internet sites, programs, video or presentations and to model or demonstrate. It is my belief that every classroom should have a ceiling-mounted data projector.
All teachers had remote slates or tablets. The benefits of these were that the teachers didn’t always have to be up the front of the class but could still interact with the computer and that the slate could easily be passed around the class for students to use.
Of the 53 students who answered questions about the board, 20 found it very helpful and 27 found it helpful during their inquiry. For the students the most commonly mentioned features of the boards that they found helpful were the ability to share information and presentations such as their Powerpoint™ slideshows with the class and that there was a big screen so everyone could see at once. Both these could be achieved with a data projector alone. Some students mentioned that they liked being able to write on the board themselves and did not like it if they didn’t get a turn to use it.
The teachers all found digital and video cameras useful for inquiry. These were used during the information retrieval and product creation stages mainly by the students rather than the teachers. Large numbers of students also mentioned that they found the digital cameras helpful.
"Snapshots in time. Effective systematic documentation of the learning and the learning experiences. The kids became empowered with the use of them." (Teacher 3)
Scanners and telephones were also mentioned as useful tools by both teachers and students. Scanners are particularly useful if you have an interactive whiteboard or data projector. They are also a good way to turn students work into digital content for uploading to websites.
The main items of software that teachers and students found useful for their inquiries were Word, Excel, Paint, Art Rage, Moviemaker, Photostory3, Powerpoint and Inspiration ( a mind-mapping program). Those teachers with interactive whiteboards also mentioned the software that accompanied the boards as being helpful. None of the teachers were using Apples so Apple software was not mentioned.
There seems to be a little confusion in schools about the various terms used to describe these learning environments. Here is a brief overview adapted from Derek Wenmoth’s blog (2006).
Online Learning Environments (OLEs) refers to the overall group of products which could include a Learning Management System (LMS), Student Management System (SMS) and a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A good diagram showing where each of the elements fits into an OLE can be found at http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/archives/OLE_school_perspective.pdf
Learning management systems (LMSs) such as KnowledgeNet, Interact and Moodle are web-based learning environments. They are part of the school’s OLE. Overseas they are often referred to as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). They contain many of the following elements:
¨ an intranet
¨ Several levels of access controlled by passwords
¨ email, online forums and chat rooms
¨ electronic diaries and blogs
¨ electronic notice boards and calendars
¨ online assessment and marking
¨ tools to create online courses and content
¨ access to curriculum resources
¨ links to web pages related to classroom activities
¨ student e-portfolios
¨ access to learning objects
¨ communication between students, teachers, parents and/or schools
¨ individual webpages for students, teachers and classes
Student Management Systems (SMSs) such as Integris or Musac's Student Manager are used to keep track of student information, attendance etc. They may also be used for assessment data. They are part of a school’s OLE.
Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) are spaces where individuals can collect and organise their “online lives”. My Space, Bebo and ELGG are examples of these. Here individuals may keep (or have RSS feeds or links to) their blogs, online photos (eg. Flickr), bookmarks (eg. Del.icio.us) etc. At present these are usually controlled by the individual and sit outside the school’s OLE although elements of them may be contained inside the LMS when students are able to create their own webpages within these eg. students may have their own KnowledgeNet page where they have links to their outside blog or photos.
There is very little research available on use of LMSs in primary schools and much of the research from tertiary and secondary institutions does not apply to use with younger students. Available research has noted benefits for students and teachers. These have included anytime, anywhere access (Jacobsen and Kremer, 2000), development of higher level learning styles (Gibbs, 1999) and online discussion forums leading to new learning approaches (Gibbs, 1999). You should also check out the research on the Kopu Digital Opportunities project. My case study research into this project which includes use of the KnowledgeNET can be found on my e-fellows' blog.
2020 Communications Trust. (2005). ICT in Schools Report 2005. Retrieved April 23, 2006 from www.minedu.govt.nz/
Becker, H. J. (2000). Findings from the teaching, learning and computing survey. Retrieved March 21st, 2006 from www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/findings/ccsso.pdf
Falloon, G. (2004). Cooperative groupings as an organisational system for classroom computer-use. Computers in New Zealand Schools, 16(1), 31 - 35.
Gibbs, G. R. (1999). Learning how to learn using a virtual learning environment for philosophy. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 15 p. 221-231.
Jacobson, D. & Kremer, R. (2000). Online testing and grading using WebCT in computer science. In Proceedings of 2000 (pp. 263-268). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
McKenzie, J. (2001). The unwired classroom: Wireless computers come of age. Retrieved June 12, 2006 from www.fno.org/jan01/wireless.html
Norris, C., Sullivan, T., Poirot, J. & Soloway, E. (2003). No access, no use, no impact: Snapshot surveys of educational technology in K-12. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 36(1), 15 - 28.
Owens, F. R., Hester, J. L. & Teale, W. (2002). Where do you want to go today? Inquiry-based learning and technology integration. The Reading Teacher, 55(7), 616-626.
Ravitz, J., Wong, Y. & Becker, H.J. (1998). Teaching, learning and computing: 1998. A national survey of schools and teachers describing their best practices, teaching philosophies, and uses of technology. Retrieved July 20, 2006 from www.crito.uci.edu/tlc/findings/special_report/
Wenmoth, D. (2006). Building an OLE – a school’s perspective. Retrieved July 30, 2006 from http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/archives/OLE_school_perspective.pdf
Jan-Marie Kellow 2007