I wonder if a more accurate question for this topic is, do we even know how to do deep research. This past school year I was part of our school’s WASC accreditation team that was asked to look at data in reading, writing and math in the elementary school to determine if all our students were achieving standards. I was supposed to be leading the group that was looking at math data for the elementary and I remember feeling a little overwhelmed. We had math end of year test scores from several years back but once I had collected the 10 spreadsheets I felt stuck. I didn’t know how to take all that information and make it meaningful let alone answer the question I was tasked to. I honestly didn’t know what I should be looking for. What data was really going to show me if students were achieving standards in math? Was this even the right data for that?
Each time we talk about big data and the fact that technology has allowed us to collect this data and use it to help students I have the same response. Right now I think that all we are doing is collecting data. We gather lots and lots of information but I don’t know that we have the skills or use the tech programs that would allow us to effectively use that data to impact student achievement. I know that the programs are available, so I think that we could move in that direction, but really bringing deep research into schools will take school admin asking teachers to use data and then providing them with the tools and training they need to analyze that data effectively.
I don’t think we are losing our ability to do deep research. The opportunity to do it is still there and, I think we can likely agree, that it is easier than ever! Today you can troll the web for all kinds of information. If there is something missing, and you have the drive and skills, it is much easier to do your own research.
What concerns and impacts me is the sheer addiction there is to surface level research. Thanks to RSS readers such as Flipboard, Pinterest and others, we can quickly jump from topic to topic and interest to interest as we zip around the web. This clearly changes our brains and how we think and, I suspect, gets us thinking we should find the quick answer instead of the easy one. I have seen many a student do research by Googling a topic and grabbing the first one or two links. Their goal is to get the research done quickly; as fast as possible so they can feel the satisfaction of a job completed.
As teachers we have to create scaffolded expectations that channel research into various areas such as databases, recommended readings and then off on their own to find some additional resources. This comprehensive approach should help students to learn what is and what is not quality, deep research.
No. We are just scratching the surface. Look at sites like ZoomIn and Stanford History Education Group (Sheg) to see how quickly we can find excellent sources to teach document analysis. Then check out apps like RefMe, which can create bibliographies through a barcode reader. Research has always been hard, but now it should be hard for the right reasons. We want to have the kids practicing higher-order thinking skills, not writing index cards of bibliographical data.
If we are not pushing the kids to research, then shame on us, not them. Researching deeply is now easier than ever. Boom!