In a recent staff meeting we kicked off our first professional development season, which focuses on learning engagements. One aim of the plenary was to begin to get teachers thinking about how they use technology in the classroom. The cartoon clip below was used as a conversation starter to get teachers to think about how they use technology with student inquiry.

The purpose was to understand that simply asking our students to “just Google it” is not great practice. Discussion centered on that we often refer to students as being ‘digital natives’ but while our students may have grown up with today’s technology, many of them do not know how to use it effectively, particularly for academic purposes. While evidence appears inconclusive about whether school libraries are in decline, owing to the online alternatives, my discussions with students indicate that in some classes they never use the library for research purposes. If this is the case with some classes, how well are teachers guiding students when conducting online inquiry?

Our responsibility, when asking students to inquire or perform any form of online research, is to teach them how to use the technology both efficiently and effectively. So, what do we need in schools to make this happen?

There are two key starting points:

1. Developing the skills for both students and teachers to search effectively on the web

Some teachers need training in understanding how search engines work and the different search engines available for use, their advantages and disadvantages. Simple guidance such as this web page from Purdue University is a good starting point or this great explainer video from commoncraft or Google are good starting points. Once teachers fully understand how to use search engines themselves, then they should be able to effectively relay this information to their students and support them.

2. Providing students with structured inquiry

There are different levels of challenge that can be given to inquiry using online sources:

  1. The teacher provides some online resources for the students to directly access. This saves time-wasting but, unfortunately, does not improve student skills in finding information.
  2. Teachers can require the students to use at least one teacher online source and one that they find themselves online.
  3. Teachers can require students to find different sources from the web: an image, a video, a cartoon clip, a news article.

No matter how good the structured inquiry tasks may be, without the necessary skills to use the technology tools at their disposal, students will not be able to undertake the task to the best of their ability.