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Research skills for the 21st Century: Looking at where, how and when we teach these skills

Andrew McCarthy, Head of High School Economics, Dover Campus
1 November 2015

When we begin a simple internet search to find flights for a holiday, accommodation options or places to visit, we use our intuition to sort through the good and bad, to dig deeper or to find opinions on social networks. As educators at UWCSEA, we hope to make the search skills of information literacy explicit to our students and embedded in our curriculum. As described in the UWCSEA Profile, we want students to use information critically to solve problems and take action. Over time, we want our students to utilise authentic, peer-reviewed material to support their lifelong learning, and to leverage technology where it is most effective in the research process.

To support this thinking, part of a recent staff professional learning day looked at the topic of research as a cross-subject skill. This was the first cross-campus session for many staff, and was a great opportunity to share best practice. The sessions were planned by their peers, including the Teacher Librarians and the Digital Literacy Coaches, and led participating staff through a set of activities in small groups.

The staff initially looked at search skills and more advanced ways to use Google to filter search results and to be more precise by using search operators. The session then went beyond Google, to explore the concept of the Deep Web, and highlighted databases that UWCSEA currently subscribes to and that are available through our website portal. We also touched on what is freely available from the Singapore National Libraries eResources section. This session provided staff with an overview of the information landscape and a chance to reflect on what is appropriate and useful in their grade or subject.

The day introduced a spectrum of applications that help students aggregate their research, from Google Docs in the Primary School to options such as Diigo and Zotero, which are more suitable to older students. These advanced tools help students develop bibliographies and in-text citations.

The ongoing task for teachers and the curriculum articulation team, is to look at where, how and when we teach these skills to students. We wish to have a clear progression of information literacy from the Primary School into Middle and then onto the High School. Our graduates will hopefully leave UWCSEA with a literacy skill that supports them as life long learners who will use information critically to solve real world problems.

During the day we also re-launched several research portals that support our students. Our main libraries site contains an overview of all physical and digital resources that students can access. This is available from our website portal or From this site there are links to our two Research Hubs for Primary and Secondary students. These are two important resources for students, and are being developed and introduced as part of the digital literacy programme at the College. These hubs are a valuable tool for our students, with many applications. For example, earlier this year Grade 11 students were introduced to the Secondary hub as part of their preparation for the Extended Essay. These sites summaries the research process and are home to lessons ideas, quizzes and quick tutorials.