Information Age Education Blog
That’s a Researchable Question
A great many years ago I served on an Advisory Panel that helped the Educational Testing Service in its efforts to develop a Computer Literacy Assessment Instrument.
Educational Testing Service (ETS), founded in 1947, is the world's largest private nonprofit educational testing and assessment organization. It is presently headquartered near Princeton, New Jersey. (Wikipedia)
My three deep remembrances of this activity are:
- I was amazed (indeed, somewhat overwhelmed) by the breadth and depth of the knowledge and skills of the panel members. It was a pleasure to rub shoulders with such well-qualified computer educators.
- By that time in history, a number of people had written about possible meanings of Computer Literacy. See the Web page Computer Literacy in 1972 at http://iae-pedia.org/Computer_Literacy_in_1972. The term “Computer Literacy” has been with us since 1972. Art Luehrmann, the author of a seminal 1972 article about computer literacy, asked "Should the computer teach the student, or vice-versa?" He was one of the panel members, and a link to his original paper is included in the Website mentioned above.
- A woman from ETS served as our leader. From her I learned the phrase, “That’s a researchable question.” She repeated this statement over and over again as we struggled with our quite difficult task and asked questions of each other.
Computer literacy has had its ups and downs during the past 39 years. Also, a variety of definitions have been proposed. From my point of view, whatever its definition, most students then and now have a relatively low level of computer literacy.
“That’s a researchable question” is as important a statement now as it was long before the development of electronic digital computers. What has changed is our tools that help us to find answers to researchable questions.
One way to try to find an answer to a researchable question is to search the literature. Computers are now a routine tool in this endeavor. In my opinion, all students should be gaining a high level of skill and experience in doing literature searches for possible answers to researchable questions.
A second approach is to communicate with people who might know an answer or where to find an answer. The Internet is now a routine aid to such communication. Students need to become skilled in finding answers from humans.
A third area of understanding and skill I believe students should be learning is roles of computer technology in actually carrying out empirical (as distinguished from library-based) research. Quoting from the Wikipedia:
Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence (the record of one's direct observations or experiences) can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively. Through quantifying the evidence or making sense of it in qualitative form, a researcher can answer empirical questions, which should be clearly defined and answerable with the evidence collected (usually called data). Research design varies by field and by the question being investigated. Many researchers combine qualitative and quantitative forms of analysis to better answer questions which cannot be studied in laboratory settings, particularly in the social sciences and in education.
Computer technology and computerized instrumentation are routine tools of empirical researchers. Their use in the sciences has become so common place that Computer Modeling is now a routine aid to research in these disciplines. See http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.
A key aspect of understanding modern research is to understand capabilities and limitations of computers as an aid in all three of the methodologies mentioned above.
What is a Researchable Question?
“What is a researchable question?” Surely students should be exploring this question in each of the disciplines they study in school. In a specific discipline, what did we know in the past and what do we know now? What are very difficult and quite challenging questions that we have a chance of answering in the near and long term future?
Finally, what are examples of questions that are not researchable? How can one tell a researchable from a non-researchable question? What do we want students to learn about dealing with questions that are well beyond current research capabilities an/or that may never be answered by empirical research? I find it interesting to listen to discussions of this topic among top notch science researchers and religious scholars and leaders.
There is a difference between the idea of having students pose questions and having students pose researchable questions. There is substantial iterature about ways to get students involved in writing questions. As an example, see http://links.edutopia.mkt5094.com/ctt?kn=33&ms=OTI2NTQ3MgS2&r=MjcyNzM4OTkzNDUS1&b=0&j=MzYxODAyNTY1S0&mt=1&rt=0. It requires higher order, deeper thinking to pose interesting, meaningful, researchable questions. As you work with students, spend some time helping them learn to analyze the quality and researchability of their questions.
What You Can Do
Begin to experiment with the topic, "That's a researchable question" in your teaching. In whatever you teach, help your students learn to ask and try to answer researchable questions. One approach is to pose questions to your students, and help them to explore whether the questions are researchable within their current level of knowledge and understanding.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.
Asking and Doing—A Two-sided Blade . See http://i-a-e.org/myblog-admin/asking-and-doinga-two-sided-blade.html.
Deep Insights into Problems with Our Educational System. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/deep-insights-into-problems-with-our-educational-system.html.
In Math Education and Other Disciplines: Asking the “Right” Researchable Questions. See http://i-a-e.org/myblog-admin/in-math-education-and-other-disciplines-asking-the-right-researchable-questions.html.
Posing and Answering Questions. See http://iae-pedia.org/Posing_and_Answering_Questions.
Some Grand Global Challenges. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/some-grand-global-challenges.html.
Why Isn’t Schooling a Lot More Successful? See http://i-a-e.org/myblog-admin/why-isnt-schooling-a-lot-more-successful.html.
Written by davem, November 22, 2011.
Problem posing and question asking are an important aspect of each discipline of study. It is not easy to learn to ask "good" questions and pose "good" problems. Thus, students tend to get a lot of practice trying to deal with the questions and problems posed by the books and the teacher, but little opportunity in developing their own abilities in question asking and problem posing.
Written by davem, December 26, 2011.
After my years of teaching math and computer science, I eventually became a faculty member in a College of Education. I read a lot about education and tried to implement the good ideas that I read.
One of the ideas that appealed to me is that of an Advance Organizer and the name David Ausubel. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ausubel. Quoting from the Website:
Advance organizers provide scaffolding, or support for new information. This is achieved by directing attention to what is important in the coming material, highlighting relationships, and providing a reminder about relevant prior knowledge. Advance organizers are helpful in the way that they help the process of learning when difficult and complex material are introduced. This is satisfied through two conditions:
1. The student must process and understand the information presented in the organizer-- this increases the effectiveness of the organizer itself.
2. The organizer must indicate the relations among the basic concepts and terms that will be used.
There are many approaches to developing and using advance organizers. I like the idea of engaging students in posing questions about the topic they are about to study. In this discussion, the teacher can also pose questions that help orient students to the material that is about to be covered.