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Thursday, June 19 • 11:30am - 12:20pm
CON5.09 – Developing an Inquiry Toolkit for Online Learning Environments (Room A239)

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Students completing online courses that include research assignments can benefit from an “inquiry toolkit”. Research projects are a standard part of post-secondary curricula and involve determining a research focus, gathering and evaluating evidence, and using it to create arguments. However, inquiry-based learning in virtual environments may pose significant challenges. Project Information Literacy, a large-scale study of student search behaviour in higher education, documents that the majority of first-year students cannot meet the research demands of university courses (Head, 2013). They struggle with conducting effective searches in academic databases and interpreting the content of scholarly information. In online learning environments, where students may not have orientations to research tools and academic writing, there is an even greater need for a formal infrastructure to support inquiry-based learning.

An inquiry toolkit addresses the need to identify and measure learning outcomes within a quality assurance framework and meets the standards for best practice in information literacy programs (ACRL, 2012).  It provides consolidated research support crafted by a librarian-faculty team and brings together the following components:

Learning outcomes articulate academic skills aligned to course assignments. Queen’s University advocates development of a set of academic literacies: critical reading, effective writing and communication, numeracy, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, information literacy, academic integrity, effective collaboration, and intercultural literacy. Stating inquiry outcomes orients students to these parallel course expectations.
Learning objects such as tutorials, guides, and videos support the development of academic literacies. Examples include the Queen’s Sociology 122 online research skills tutorial designed for first-year students, a video-clip series showcasing strategies for locating online lesson plans for Queen’s teachers on Aboriginal reserves, and online tutorials for medical students as part of blended learning opportunities. These objects are created by librarians and would target online resources for use in virtual learning environments.
Research assessment tools give feedback on research competencies before and after the inquiry assignment making the connection with learning objects that reinforce development of inquiry skills. Results can be analyzed to identify gaps in learning support. Marking rubrics may be used by librarians, peer students, or faculty to evaluate the research assignments but also to guide the students while preparing their work.
Reference tools provide subject-specific context in content areas new to the student. Academic handbooks and encyclopedias provide conceptual frameworks and background information. Finding “context” is identified as the most difficult aspect of inquiry for graduating students according to Project Information Literacy research (Head, 2009). Selected research databases provide better starting points than general web searches for retrieval of scholarly articles. Few research assignments direct novice researchers to recommended information tools (Head, 2010) resulting in a frustrating inquiry experience.

Participants in this session will discuss student information search habits and how they impact assignment design and support in online courses and explore components of an inquiry toolkit drawing on successful examples at Queen’s University. They will also be invited to share inquiry toolkit components that they would recommend.



Thursday June 19, 2014 11:30am - 12:20pm
A239 McArthur Hall

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