Structured research can be difficult for students for many reasons: some struggle with finding credible sources, some find it hard to stay engaged in their topic, and some don't understand the importance of what we're asking them to do. Who can blame them? How much agency do they feel when we ask students to create a poster or Google Slides presentation with their research findings just to be turned into the teacher and never visited again? How much do they actually take away from the project? If we want students to become more resilient researchers and work through the difficulties of fact-finding and analysis, we must create authentic experiences that not only provide support along the research journey but also require students to think more critically about their research.
One way to help students understand that what they are learning matters in the real world is to reinvent our delivery of lessons using blended learning. The Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank focused on transforming education, defines blended learning as "a formal education program in which a student learns: at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace" ("Blended Learning" 2019).
Blended learning offers us the opportunity to create authentic learning experiences that utilize technology and an array of library resources effectively.
With the blended learning model in mind, we wanted to build in some student autonomy "over time, place, path, and/or pace" For this project. We collaborated to develop several "playlists" (see Additional Resources) for students to follow through the stages of research that allowed them to choose their own path by selecting topics of interest, work at their own pace at times, and collaborate in small groups at other times. Throughout the research process, we required "teacher time" or check-ins before students could move on to the next stage. This approach was especially effective because the direct feedback during the research allowed students to have vetted quality information and correct citations early in the process.
Although many students expressed frustration when we recommended changes, we found that holding students responsible throughout the research process yielded results above and beyond what we previously experienced when feedback was only given at the completion of the projects. Students next applied their research to the design thinking process, which required them to identify their specific environmental problem and propose potential solutions that they could actually implement. In the final component of the project, students used WeVideo to compile their research findings and proposed solution into a short film.
At the conclusion of the project, we held a film festival and invited a panel of community members, as well as other classes, teachers, and administrators. We created a theater-like atmosphere complete with a red carpet, table settings, popcorn, and an official program. Creating this unique environment with an authentic audience was important because it provided students with a much more dynamic and exciting experience than showing a presentation or poster in front of a class would have provided.
When designing research projects, here are components to increase student agency and promote resiliency:
Teacher Collaboration: Work with classroom teachers as instructional partners throughout the entire project (not just for specific aspects of the project) Blended Learning: Create a learning experience that allows students to have some control of time, place, path, and pace. Frequent Feedback: Provide students with on-the-spot feedback before they move on to the next step. Student Authenticity: Build experiences that give students a sense of why what they're doing matters. Student Advocacy: Build experiences that empowers students to think about what they're going to do about an issue in order to change it. Authentic Audience: Provide a wider audience by reaching out to community members.
We are in the business of growing resilient researchers, but we must also be resilient in our own practices. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo, we need to be intentional in designing learning experiences that encourage students to think critically about the information they research and create projects that lead to change.
"Blended Learning." Christensen Institute. Accessed June 2019. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blended-learning/.
Student Research Playlists
Tucker, Catlin R., et al. Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change. Corwin, 2017.