We are coming to a close with the project and I’m nowhere close to being completed with this problem. The naked truth is: When I started this project I thought that the only reasons why more students didn’t use electronic resources and school approved electronic materials more is because of access to the electronic resources and the ease of use of Google itself. This still may be true, but the project seemed to scream more of: WAIT! Google may not be a “problem” after all! It’s implementation in academia may be the issue!
As a brief aside, when I was getting my Masters in Library Science, the talk of the department was academia meeting Wikipedia. The pundits seemed to be in two distinct camps: “Wikipedia is the most inaccurate resource on the web” and “Wikipedia is the resource best able to bring the knowledge of the masses to the masses with reasonable oversight.” Though the Wikipedia argument may still exist, it is garnering more and more acceptance in at least SOME avenues of casual research. I feel that Google is now being targeted similarly. Though the implementation of my project, I’ve discovered that Google is truly JUST a tool and that’s it. Students make it the end all be all because of its simplicity and they believe that EVERYTHING there is to know can be found by using it. In my fourth grade class, I likened Google to a shovel. Yes, a shovel. It is a tool just like Google. Shovels can be used for many different uses, but it is mainly used to dig holes. Can a shovel be misused? They responded affirmatively. Google can be used for many different uses as well, but it is mainly used to find information online. It, too, can be misused. Once initial implementation of my Wicked Project began, it was this premise that became the onus of my remaining project.
If I was to be honest and truthful, the answer to the question: Did this project go as planned? would be “NOT A CHANCE.” I already spoke to how the direction changed once implemented, but it also didn’t go as implemented, I feel, because the situation I teach in basically doomed it from the start within the timeframe allowed with this course. This problem cannot be addressed in any component with my schedule (each class gets one 40 minute class period a week) adequately over a 4 week period. I believe completely, however, that if I worked in a classroom with the same kids all day 5 days a week, I think this project would have had far better results over a shorter timeframe. That being said, I think that what I did accomplish went well.
The students gained a lot of insight on the differences between electronic resources and Google. I ended up take a part of this lesson and showing it to my fifth graders and they expressed the joy of knowing that citations was given to them by electronic resources rather than them having to find it like they did using Google.
To evaluate success of this project I used two methods: First, qualitative observation. The fourth graders are researching famous Nebraskans and we did some searching using WorldBook Online, EBSCOHost, and Google. It was a very brief lesson due to time constraints but what I noticed while walking around observing them filling out a graphic organizer is that 22 of the 25 students were using one of the electronic resources over Google. However, it did not eliminate Google altogether. After a period of time, they used Google as well. I came to the conclusion that it is best that I do not bar Google like some in my District have. I believe that seeing them evaluate the tools better has brought far more success just by observing than it would just saying “You cannot use Google.”
The second method was the use of exit tickets. Since I was in the classroom for the last implementation time period, I did not get a chance to get my normal exit ticket (which are small paper slips about the size of an index card). Instead, I had them fill out an index card after their computer was put away that answered the following two questions:
1. Name one advantage and one disadvantage for using Google and the electronic resources you used today
2. What was something you learned today you didn’t know before
The results were mixed. Some were negative in the fact that some students still thought that Google was better because Google was easier to use and that using electronic resources took longer than if they could have just Googled it. However one student summed up the experience like this: “I want to get things right. I learned that to get things right, sometimes you have to take a little longer. I learned that WorldBook Online did not have as much information as Google, but WorldBooks information was never wrong.”
One cannot be that black and white about information as this young lady stated. However, my goal was simply to get students to say “Ah! So I can use more than Google to get my work done and I know that the information I find on these alternatives can be better than what I find on Google!”
It’s a great summary to two lessons, but it needs more work.
The Project, Lessons Learned, and Where to Go From Here:
I am a harsh critic of my methods and I also think that my methods lacked a lot of components to make it a great unit. Overall, I’m happy with it, but this is a lesson I must refine and redesign. I waited too long to do this project. When I do this unit again, I will be certain that it will be implemented in September, not February. This is a project that needed time I did not adequately give to it, so the effectiveness of the project suffered.
When I do this again, I will do it in chunks. My implementation should have been a series of ongoing, yearlong minilessons that piggybacked upon existing research projects and utilized every facet of learning style (visual, oral, tactile) and many learning environments (modeled, shared, guided, group, and individual). I felt rushed and the lessons ended up suffering somewhat because of it.
If I were to give advice to someone who is considering taking on a project like this, here’s a list of advice I’d tell them:
1. Do not do this as a stand alone project. This is not like a math unit! This is something that is an ongoing theme that will stick with them in any class that requires research for the remainder of their academic lives! Having this as a stand alone can also produce burnout. Research already has a reputation of being boring and a lot of work. If you sneak bits and pieces of the solutions discussed earlier into existing lesson material and have it so that each piece builds upon itself naturally, I believe it should be infinitely more effective.
2. Do not implement this with expectations of it being the end all solution. If you go into a project like this saying “I’m going to cure them of their ill-advised usage of poor materials by telling them that these methods are better than Google.” You will be disappointed and worse, it will fail…miserably. Kids are going to use Google. That’s just how it is. Instead, ask yourself: “How can I broaden their information searching horizons?” From there you can delve into keyword formation, website evaluation, and Google alternatives that will give the students the best toolbox to complete their work and become more well rounded academically.
3. Don’t do it like you have to do it. Do it because the students need the knowledge. Admittedly, I never would have thought of this project had it not been for this course, but at least I’ve thought of it now. Recognize that it is going to take a lot of time and effort to get this project done and done correctly.
4. Recognize that this is an infinite project. Human nature pushes for a beginning, middle, and an end to all things. You, as an educator, must recognize that this project is one that only ends when their academic lives end. Your part in it will end at the end of the school year, but this project will carry on with them forever. With that in mind, you can’t “Teach it and leave it.” This must be taught, retaught, reviewed, and repeatedly implemented throughout the school year. It should be built into every research project you assign.
The Prospective Wicked Problems of the Future
In the end, as I look back, Wicked Problems exist all over and there will come a time when I’ll have to tackle another Wicked Problem. But what should be done? The easiest way to discover Wicked Problems is to simply keep your eyes open to what the students are showing you and keep listening to what your students are telling you. My Wicked Problem resulted from me simply observing how students go about answering the questions posed to them in an academic environment. I would tackle Wicked Problems one step at a time. Make small changes and work to the whole. I’d also be sure to recognize that I’m not alone. Some people are able to take on big problems by themselves but most of us need the occasional boost or assistance. Do not be afraid to ask what others do in the same situation! Be persistent and analytical as well. I know the next time I find a wicked problem, I’ll be elated that I discovered another pathway to helping my students succeed.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In the end, this project became the roller coaster of my Spring Semester of 2013. I remember panicking about what to do, how to do it, IF I’ll even get to do it (thanks Mother Nature!). In the end, however, what I learned and what I’ll take from this has nothing to do with the results I got from the exit surveys or even the course objectives with this project. What I learned is that research is more than just the answering of a question. It takes a lot to get to the point where you can answer the question with finality and certainty…and students do not know how to get to that point. I learned that Google isn’t the enemy, inexperience and ignorance is. I now know that I must attack this issue in an ongoing manner every school day to give my students the best opportunity to become critical learners and problem solvers. And my only recommendation to make is simply to not change the world through elimination, but alter the world by teaching and thinking critically. Instead of bemoaning a problem that is occurring to our youth academically, attack it by teaching them how to correct what is viewed as a bad academic habit.
If I came upon another Wicked Problem, I know that, with the four suggestions I made above, I can do it better next time. I know that I can’t solve a Wicked Problem in one fell swoop. Very few people can change the world overnight or even over a month. It takes time, the right environment, and a slew of circumstances to make it happen. It’s always going to be an uphill battle, never easy, but your students need it and will thank you for it (even if the thank you isn’t verbalized).
I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t hit a home run in my implementation. But I learned how to help my students. I can’t think of a better thing than that.