Inquiry-based learning is highly encouraged in today’s Social Studies classrooms. Some teachers may wonder how they can effectively introduce web-based sources of information into the inquiry process. A tool devised by researchers is here to help!
Inquiry-based learning is very much about students asking good questions and gathering sound and reliable information. Then, they are supposed to analyse, interpret and evaluate that information to develop their own conclusions.
Online information may not always be accurate, but Associate Professor Mark Baildon, Head of the Humanities and Social Studies Academic Group in NIE, believes that students need to learn how to work with such sources, in the classroom and in real life.
He and Associate Professor James Damico from Indiana University came up with the Critical Web Reader (CWR), a web-based tool that help students analyse, interpret, and critically read online information sources.
Critical Web Reader
“The CWR will be a useful tool to help teachers and students start to transit from working with hard-copy to online sources, which are multimodal and more complex,” says Mark. It helps slow down students’ thinking process so that they might deliberate over and evaluate information, with key guiding questions in mind.
The Curriculum Planning & Development Division (CPDD) of MOE is currently revamping the Social Studies curriculum. The inquiry-based and student-centred curriculum will be launched in 2016.
A tool like CWR can facilitate this shift. “We are hoping to better integrate the CWR with the new Social Studies curriculum,” says Mark.
The Critical Web Reader will be a useful tool to help teachers and students start to transit from working with hardcopy to online sources, which are multimodal and more complex.
– Mark Baildon, Humanities and Social Studies Academic Group
When they use CWR, teachers can design inquiry activities with customized “lenses” to guide students when they consume online information. Mark explains that these are scaffolds which help students analyse and evaluate web pages via guiding questions, tips and suggestions.
“We have developed certain standard lenses, but we have also encouraged teachers to develop their own.”
When teachers come up with their own lenses, they end up thinking more about the inquiry process, and how to help students handle complex online information. They also think more about the “end product”, when students are expected to take an informed position on an issue by using supporting evidence drawn from different sources.
Mark remembers a question from a CWR activity: “Is healthcare affordable in Singapore?” Students worked with different sources, such as Facebook posts, YouTube videos from the Ministry of Health (MOH), The Online Citizen (an alternative socio-political news website in Singapore), and even the website of American politician Ron Paul who has written an article titled “Why I Always Praise Singapore’s Health Care System.”
For Mark, this exercise led students to examine sources with very different perspectives and decipher complex and even conflicting online information.
For some teachers, the experience with CWR was a real eye-opener.
“Students turn out to be much more independent and resourceful than the teachers thought. They were observed to be using other online resources such as Wikipedia and dictionary.com,” shares Mark.
Not just that, students also find working with authentic online sources more interesting. “They see it as a more ‘real-world’ kind of work, and tend to be much more focused when using technology,” Mark notes.
For him, the responses towards CWR are encouraging. “Teachers are moving towards allowing students a bit more latitude and flexibility in their responses, and having them respond to sources in a more holistic and natural way actually results in the students developing their thinking. This is quite a shift and change for some teachers and students.”
They see it as a more ‘real-world’ kind of work, and tend to be much more focused when using technology.
– Mark on why students like working with the Critical Web Reader
Towards Broader Inquiry
Mark hopes the CWR will continue to spur teachers into thinking more about media and digital literacy, and the role of online information sources in inquiry.
“Working with sources is not an end in itself; it is part of a broader inquiry that helps students develop the skills and dispositions central to inquiry, which are also central to developing an informed citizenry and lifelong learners,” says Mark.
Moving forward, Mark and his researchers will organize a workshop to gather teachers’ feedback on the use of the CWR, and to encourage them to share their experiences.
“It is important to develop a strong sense of professional learning community among the schools in using technology to support inquiry into real-world issues,” shares Mark.