Book chapter

Practicing in Public: A Social Constructivist Approach to Research Skills Work in Online Discussion Boards

First published as Chapter 19 of "Motivating students on a time budget : pedagogical frames and lesson plans for in-person and online information literacy instruction" / edited by Sarah Steiner and Miriam Rigby. Chicago : ALA, 2019.

I was inspired to develop the exercise described in this chapter by my dance background, which taught me that practical skills are best acquired through intentional, shared practice; my observations as an online student that effectively designed online discussions offer an opportunity for shared learning that can surpass in-person interactions; and my awareness that students need significant hands-on experience with online searching to move beyond their existing search habits. By incorporating elements of communities of practice and positive assessment, the exercise uses a social constructivist approach to motivate students to engage with the material and obtain a robust amount of practice. The exercise asks students to practice their acquisition of research skills in plain view of each other by using the online discussion boards provided in my institution’s learning management system (LMS). The exercise gives students a structured assignment, asking them to perform specific tasks in a search interface such as a web search engine, a library database, or a discovery service, and it requires them to report back to each other on their actions, their search results, and their overall experience. It also asks for documentation of their search, so the instructor can give individualized feedback in private. Students’ discussion board posts must include specific details, such as the keywords and database expanders or limiters they used, and I encourage them to report on their difficulties as well as their successes. They benefit from the clarity about their searches they gain from describing them to their peers and from experiencing each other’s searches vicariously. If we return to our imaginary dance class, this is parallel to learning a difficult skill, such as pirouettes in ballet, where practice is needed to cement learning; some failure is likely before success can be reached, and learning happens in view of the rest of the class.

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