Twitter as a search tool

Figure 1 Search results for
Figure 1 Search results for “inquiry school library” in Twitter.

I have referred to social media a few times to search for information. Notably, I have used Pinterest consistently throughout my (short) teaching career with various levels of success. However, I have never tried Twitter as a search repository, and was curious to see how useful it could be.

Research question: How can the library support inquiry learning?

My first attempt at Twitter was to search the hashtag, #inquiryinenglish but that came up with nothing. My next search was “Inquiry school library” without a hashtag hoping to widen the results. The results were broad and unspecific, and largely about student-driven questions (Fig. 1). I was unable to find anything specific enough for my needs, and it was too difficult to narrow down the search.

Figure 2 Richard Kassissieh @kassissieh's Twitter Post that surfaced through the search
Figure 2 Richard Kassissieh (@kassissieh)’s Twitter Post that surfaced through the search “inquiry school library”.

Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My next search “Inquiry in English“, again without the hashtag, still generated largely irrelevant results, but it wasn’t being updated as quickly as “inquiry school library”. I was able to scroll down to find some relevant tweets. @kassissieh Tweeted an image from his class with the title, “Thematic inquiry in English classes builds student dialogue around contemporary topics” (Fig. 2); however, the limited explanation made the concept unclear to me. I also found a conversation initiated by Lissa Layman (@MmsLayman): “What does #inquiry look like in High School English classes?” Bingo.

This conversation provided a selection of blogs, strategies and ideas of what other English teachers have found successful (Fig. 3):

  • Dianne McKenzie (February, 2015). Scaffolded Thinking. – a question based activity to determine prior knowledge on the context of the text (in this case, Shakespeare), and to generate questions that students want to explore further about what they still want to know. This also led me to the Visual Thinking Strategy Think, Puzzle, Explore via McKenzie’s reflection on a blog post by Buffy Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian) on Igniting Inquiry.
  • Visual Thinking Layers routine, which organises students questions about a text into genuine and generative inquiry questions that can be explored in order to deepen understanding and appreciation with the text.
  • Dianne McKenzie (August, 2015). One size for all limits of learning – The teacher provides a concept, theme, or idea that they want students to explore, for instance, racism, and students then locate a text that they want to read that explores the concept.
  • Dianne McKenzie (September 2014). Visualising Orwell – a visual literacy strategy that uses images and quotes to initiate questions and discussion about the context of the novel before studying it.
  • Dianne McKenzie (November, 2014) Maze Running – a visual thinking activity where students worked in groups to negotiate an agreed upon layout for the setting, personalities of the characters, and their relationships. However, while this was included in the Twitter search results, I would not classify it as strictly ‘inquiry’ based learning.
Figure 3 A map of the Twitter conversation generated by Lissa Layman (@MmeLayman) about what inquiry can look like in an English classroom.

This search also provided me with the hashtag #sharedinquiry which sent me to another conversation on Twitter. However, this hashtag did not give me any information on what Shared Inquiry actually was, so I went back to Google and typed it in. I discovered that an organisation called The Great Books Foundation who produce educational resources have developed their own method of inquiry in English called Shared Inquiry. On their website, the aims of the Shared Inquiry method, “..centers on interpretive questions—questions about a text that have more than one plausible answer. Discussion leaders employ the Shared Inquiry method to get participants thinking, listening, and responding to questions and answers from others in their discussion groups.” (The Great Books Foundation, 2015). The website also includes a free-to-download PDF that examines the Shared Inquiry process using texts, which will prove to be a highly valuable resource in helping me to generate ideas about how inquiry can be used in the English classroom.

I became incredibly carried away following the ideas that the short discussion that @MmeLayman generated on Twitter. It was overwhelming trying to curate their ideas in a way that I could use. Eventually I found some order to my Twitter searching, and found enough to keep me occupied in generating my own response to the English-based inquiry question. I did not need to try any more search terms, nor did I try other social media sites – I was quite satisfied with what I found. A combination of finding more than enough ideas to keep me occupied, plus how time-consuming it was to curate the resources I was finding into a logical order were my reasons to not continue my social media search at this time. While Twitter is a pain to navigate as you cannot sort results in any meaningful way, and you also have to sift through many irrelevant sources (I had many Tweets from companies asking for the “inquiry to be in English please”), the conversational nature of Twitter makes it a goldmine for information, once you actually find what you’re looking for.

Another database: ProQuest Education

Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.
Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.

Research question: How can the library facilitate inquiry learning?

By the time I arrived at ProQuest, I was already feeling quite confident about the resources I had already found, particularly what A+ Education gave me as it was specific to the Australian education system. As a result, my searching in ProQuest was quite short. I put in my standard search first, (“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”), which generated 1,470 results. While it said it was sorted by relevance, the first page did not strike me as relevant. The results were about inquiry learning in general, rather than in the library (Fig. 1). In fact, only one article piqued my interest – ‘DEWEY do Dewey don’t: a sign of the times’ (Gordon, 2013) – because it was the only one that focused on the role of the librarian.

Figure 1 First search using my default search string yielded a largely irrelevant list of results.
Figure 1 First search using my default search string yielded a largely irrelevant list of results.

Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My next search was about English – (“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”) AND (english OR language) NOT (science OR biology). I automatically made the search string not include science and biology as they were already coming up in my previous search. This generated a list of results about using ICT in the classroom, or inquiry projects involving subjects that were not listed, so relevance was limited. I was able to find one article that followed an American English teacher’s journey into making research projects more interesting for her students using inquiry learning, ‘Motivating Students’ Research Skills and Interests through a Multimodal, Multigenre Research Project’ (Bailey, N. & Carroll, K. 2010). This will be helpful as until now I have found no academic literature that is about inquiry learning in English.

Aside from the Bailey and Carroll (2010) article about including inquiry learning in English, overall, ProQuest was largely a disappointment. It returned a large list of results that I would expect from Google or Google Scholar, but they did not have the same relevance as Google or A+ Education did.

A+ Education – an Aussie database. Mate.

Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.
Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.

Research question: How can the library facilitate inquiry learning?

I started this search with what I have decided will be my default search string [(“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”)]. My searching is becoming quite refined and more efficient. I am not wasting time trying various search strings anymore; I have narrowed down my search terms. I have also discarded the term ‘supporting’ in my searches. As far as I’m concerned, the librarian runs inquiry learning! They don’t just support it.

This search proved to be successful. This returned six highly-relevant investigations into inquiry-learning practice in Australian libraries. Unfortunately, two results were unavailable online, but I still have four to work with which is excellent. The results I found were:

  • Heinstrom, J. and Todd, R. J. Uncertainty and guidance : school students’ feelings, study approaches, and need for help in inquiry projects. Scan; v.25 n.3 p.29-35; August 2006.
  • James, R. Feasting’s a boar : the guided inquiry research approach in practice. Synergy; v.6 n.1 p.47-48; 2008.
  • Sheerman, Alinda. Accepting the challenge : evidence based practice at Broughton Anglican College. Scan; v.30 n.2 p.24-33; May 2011.
  • Fitzgerald, L. Investigating guided inquiry : a beginning. [online]. Scan; v.26 n.2 p.30-37; May 2007.
  • Wilma, K. & Turnbaull, M. (2009). ‘Learning communities at Year 7, 8 and 9 : using UbD and guided inquiry towards shared understandings and authentic learning.’ [Unavailable online]
  • Pick, A. & Schutz, H. (2007). ‘Raising profiles : an investigation into teacher awareness of information literacy and strategies for increasing understanding of the concept and the role of the teacher librarian.’ [Unavailable Online]

Research question: What is the role of the teacher in inquiry learning?
Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My next search was an attempt to find the ‘role’ of the teacher in inquiry learning, particularly in English [(“Inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND teacher AND English AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”) NOT Science]. This is a topic I had been largely unsuccessful in finding any information on using Google and Google Scholar. A+ Education was able to find two resources: “Raising profiles : an investigation into teacher awareness of information literacy and strategies for increasing understanding of the concept and the role of the teacher librarian” (Pick, A. 2007) and “Boys learning through ICT” (Ruffles, D. 2005). These two appear to be general across all learning areas, and so I assume the strategies would be transferable to English. However, neither was available online. Furthermore, both articles were written about 8-10 years ago, and due to the ever-evolving nature of ICT, I would regard them to be largely out of date anyway.

So far in my searching I have failed to find any academic results specific to inquiry methodology in English. I have also been quite unsuccessful in being able to identify the ‘role’ of the teacher in supporting inquiry learning activities, while the research is very strong in the role of the librarian. From this I am starting to gather that effective inquiry learning really needs to include a teacher-librarian. Without the information literacy expertise, the activity is just an outcome that tests content-knowledge, with little consideration of the process.

Google Scholar – a bit deeper into Google

Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.
Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.

Research question: How can the library support inquiry learning?

Starting with the most successful search strings from Google (Supporting AND “inquiry learning” AND librarian AND “secondary school”) generated a list of mostly irrelevant results about different inquiry learning activities. One relevant result was Kulthau’s ‘Guided Inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century’ article that Google also found. The other relevant result is another resource by Kulthau: Kuhlthau & Maniotes’ book Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Everything else is either related to research done in different subject areas or school situations (ie, a primary setting, distance ed.).

For the next search, I tried to narrow down my search query further to become (“inquiry learning” OR “guided inquiry” OR “inquiry based learning”) AND (librarian OR library) AND (“secondary school” OR “high school”). While the results were slightly more useful, I am still unable to get the full page of relevant results as I did with Google. The same Kuhlthau article keeps appearing (Kulthau’s Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century), and another Kulthau article appeared, ‘Building guided-inquiry teams for 21st-century learners’ which looks like it will be useful in determining how to collaborate with other teachers. Another article, ‘From Perceptions to Connections: Informing Information Literacy Program Planning in Academic Libraries Through Examination of High School Library Media Center Curricula’ from College & Research Libraries will likely be useful. One PDF that I thought sounded useful, ‘Collaborating to Meet Standards’ from Knowledge Quest was just an advertisement for different books for sale on Inquiry learning, which was quite disappointing.

My last two searches demonstrate my increasing frustration with Scholar, as they could not provide anything relevant to my questions. Overall, Google Scholar was limited in the usefulness of the resources it found. The few that I did find are highly relevant peer-reviewed literature, but Scholar just did not have the same scope as Google. While Google Scholar is reliable in returning only high-quality sources unlike Google, for this topic, Google has been much more useful. Google draws upon articles and blogs that Scholar could not, allowing more breadth to the type of information I was able to find.

Google – everyone’s first search solution

Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.
Table demonstrating order of search strings and their development.

Research question: How can the library support inquiry learning?

Figure 1 Using the search terms
Figure 1 Using the search terms “Supporting inquiry learning librarian secondary school” in Google.

Building upon the general search of inquiry learning in Google, I added a few extra terms to narrow down the search. My first search of the terms Supporting inquiry learning librarian secondary school yielded a page of results, some of which do appear relevant (Fig. 1). The focus of these results looks primarily at the role of the Teacher-Librarian which identifies them as core teachers in building up the research capacity in students through modelling and facilitating guided inquiry lessons. The general nature of the my search results suggest that research activities are often most suited to occur in the library, and librarians managing the resources and understanding best how to navigate the databases that they administer ensures that they are most capable at delivering inquiry learning activities. The useful articles that I found include:

Narrowing the search further using the Boolean operator ‘AND’ in between the search terms yielded even more relevant results, even though I was under the impression Google searches generally ignored this word. The first six results are a combination of articles from the NSW Education Department, ASLA, Rutgers University New Jersey, SCIS, and the Curriculum and Leadership Journal Australia, all of which I would consider to be reputable sources on this topic. The most valuable include an article by Judi Moreillon (2014) in the Journal of the American Association of School Libraries, ‘Knowledge Quest’ on ‘Inquiry Learning and Reading Comprehension Strategy Instruction’ and Carol Kuhlthau’s article, ‘Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century’ in the School Libraries Worldwide journal (2010).

Figure 2 Using ‘Supporting AND “inquiry learning” AND teacher AND “secondary school”’ to try to narrow my search only managed to list a variety of irrelevant subject areas.

At this point, I was getting excited. Even though I wasn’t searching beyond the first page (because it’s Google, who does?), Google was returning a variety of resources, including websites, Government inquiries, research, and professional articles. I decided to investigate the role of the teacher in inquiry learning using, ‘Supporting AND “inquiry learning” AND teacher AND “secondary school”‘ as my search string (Fig. 2), hoping the same level of information would surface. Unfortunately, the first page only returned resources on lessons or projects for specific subject areas. This specific information, for instance “Inquiry approaches in secondary Studies of Society and Environment” or “Networked inquiry learning in secondary science classrooms” (Fig. 2) was not helpful in assisting me to understand what the general role of the teacher is in inquiry learning. The role of the teacher is not anywhere near as well documented as that of the teacher librarian.

Figure 3 Using ‘Supporting AND
Figure 3 Using ‘Supporting AND “inquiry learning” AND teacher AND English AND “secondary school” -science’ as my search string yielded a page of irrelevant results. Cannot go too narrow using Google.

Research question: How can inquiry learning be included in the English classroom?

My last attempt at Google was even more disappointing. I tried to narrow the same search down to the English classroom, NOT science (Supporting AND “inquiry learning” AND teacher AND English AND “secondary school” -science). The results for this were even more useless (Fig. 3). Random education-related websites surfaced which seemed to have the terms “inquiry learning” and “English” on the same page, rather than being about inquiry learning in the English classroom.

~

Figure 4 Used
Figure 4 Used “inquiry based learning in the english classroom” as my search string. Results were surprisingly useful.

Typing that last line in the previous paragraph gave me a brain-wave, and so I typed, “Inquiry based learning in the english classroom” into Google. My loyal website has redeemed itself, providing a variety of resources including articles, videos of inquiry based learning in action in the English classroom, and lesson ideas (Fig. 4). While the results were not strictly academic, they were written by teaching professionals, and coupled with the research from the effective Google searches from earlier, they will still prove to be useful in providing me with ideas on how to incorporate inquiry learning into a regular English classroom. A student teacher’s inquiry project An Exploration of Inquiry in the English Classroom, high-school teacher Heather Brown’s journal article, ‘Walking into the Unknown: Inquiry-Based Learning Transforms the English Classroom’ in The English Journal, and a sample chapter entitled, ‘Inquiry and Independence in the English Language Arts Classroom’ from the American publication, Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards: English Language Arts, Grades 6-8 (2011) have all appeared to be useful to answering my question about incorporating inquiry learning in the English classroom.

Conclusion

Google has proved quite useful in this search as I have a handful of highly relevant resources to use in answering two of my inquiry questions. I found that keeping it simple was the most effective way to return the most useful results in Google, as the relevancy of results returned was an indirect correlation with how complicated my Boolean operators became (Fig. 5).

Figure 5 A graph demonstrating the indirect correlation between the relevancy of results and the search strings.
Figure 5 A graph demonstrating the indirect correlation between the relevancy of results and the search strings.

Once I started including quotation marks, the results became quite messy. My most effective searches were through using a sentence, (Inquiry based learning in the english classroom), key terms (Supporting inquiry learning librarian secondary school), or, most effectively, by only using the Boolean operator ‘AND’ to narrow the search (Supporting AND inquiry learning AND librarian AND secondary school).