Final Reflection

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The Past and the Present

Having reached the end of this inquiry into inquiry learning, I am feeling quite satisfied, and proud of what I have accomplished and how far I have progressed, as expected at the presentation and assessment stages, according to Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2007, p.19).  I also feel proud of my blog, and relieved that I have been able to communicate my learning in a clear and effective manner, after feeling overwhelmed and confused earlier in the process.

I learned, first-hand, about the importance of immersion in a topic, before trying to find a focus; and also the importance of locating quality sources early in the ISP.  The location of these sources takes skill, strategy, evaluation, and time – understanding this will help to ensure I plan for effective facilitation of this stage with future classes.  I also now better understand the value and benefits of collaboration to co-construct new meaning.  Although our blogs were completed individually, there were many opportunities for collaboration with fellow Masters students at different stages along the journey, including during tutorials, and via Facebook – I really did feel like part of a community of learners.  I now feel empowered to use my new understandings about guided inquiry in future collaborative planning with teachers at my school.

At the start of this inquiry, my initial reflection took the form of 3 questions:

  • Does inquiry learning need to occur within a whole school approach in order to work effectively?

From my experience and exploration, I would suggest that inquiry learning does work best when implemented as part of a whole school approach, which would include flexible timetabling, promotion of inquiry learning, and appropriate professional development for teachers.  However, with teacher training, and careful thought, planning, and scaffolding, successful inquiry learning is still possible within a more traditional school environment.

  • Do weaker students need extra guidance and/or structure, or do they succeed by working at their own level, optimising their strengths and/or collaborating?

As pointed out by FitzGerald (2011) and others, all students require some guidance and structure when carrying out an inquiry.  As inquiries are individualised and open-ended, the ISP focuses on students’ own interests and strengths, while students work collaboratively to co-construct new understandings and develop their own skills in information literacy.  Learning through an inquiry process means that all  students benefit as they locate, evaluate, share and use information in a community of learners.

  • What kind of learning spaces best facilitate inquiry learning?

Learning can take place anywhere anytime.  Students can learn in the physical environment, whether at school or on field trips, and students can learn in the online environment.  Schools and teachers need to facilitate optimum learning opportunities in both environments.  At school, a major consideration is the provision of collaborative learning spaces, as well as a variety of learning spaces and furniture, which suit different learner preferences, moods and tasks.  Educators also need to provide online learning spaces, where students and teachers can collaborate outside class time, share ideas, ask questions, access resources, and learn from each other.  This could take the form of Facebook groups, class blogs, shared Evernote folders, and a wide variety of other online tools.

The Future

Buoyed by my new understandings about guided inquiry, I (as teacher librarian) recently approached one of the program leaders in History at my school, about collaboratively planning a guided inquiry for one program of study for next year.  The teacher was very supportive and amenable to the idea.  I am now in the early stages of planning this guided inquiry, in collaboration with the History teacher, and the Digital Literacy specialist.  I am very excited about this project, and look forward to sharing and using the information I have co-constructed through my inquiry into inquiry.


Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.




I recently observed an inquiry by Year 10 Geography students.  The topic was “Health of the Swan River” and the stated task was to “Investigate the health of the Swan River and prepare a written report.”  The task was to be completed entirely individually, and was structured into four stages: research & planning, geographical inquiry, geographical interpretation, and written report.  Below, I will critically analyse the ILA that I observed, and make recommendations about how the program could be re-designed in the future, in order to become a stronger inquiry model.  This will be discussed, specifically, in relation to curriculum, geographical inquiry and information-learning theories.  Whilst I am not an expert in the teaching of Geography, my recommendations are based on methodology which is transferable across the curriculum, and I will suggest strategies for its incorporation into this specific ILA.


My ILA was explicitly created as a “geographical inquiry”, with a firm foundation in the Australian Curriculum.  The program of study was newly created by one teacher, according to school departmental requirements and practice, and delivered by all teachers of that subject.  The following standards of the Australian Curriculum appear to be addressed, as part of Unit 1: Environmental change and management

Geographical Knowledge and Understanding: ACHGK073, ACHGK074, ACHGK075

Geographical Inquiry and Skills: ACHGS072, ACHS073, ACHGS077, ACHGS080

Only 4 class periods, of 55 minutes each, were allocated to this inquiry, according to the program.  A lack of student time on the task is seen as one of the main inhibitors to implementing a successful information search process (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p.51)Apart from the fact that the school has a very busy and rigid timetable, it is unclear why such little time was allocated to this task.  An increased time allocation for this inquiry would not only increase the likelihood of deeper understanding of the topic and issues, but would also provide the opportunity for a greater number of Geographical Inquiry and Skills standards to be incorporated, such as those relating to evaluation of sources and communication of findings.  Where additional class time is not possible, online collaborative learning environments may prove to be extremely useful, giving the chance for students to access, discuss and share information outside of the classroom, in order to co-create new meanings.

The Geographical Inquiry and Skills standards that do appear to be addressed in this task are generally not achieved in full and/or not achieved to a high level, due to the time constraints.  For example, ACHGS077 states, “Apply geographical concepts to synthesise information from various sources and draw conclusions based on the analysis of data and information, taking into account alternative points of view” (ACARA, 2013).  Based on my observations, students generally resorted to one main website as their source of information, and did not have the time or analytical skills to take differing viewpoints into consideration.

Geographical Inquiry

One of the five stated aims of the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Geography Curriculum reads thus:

the capacity to be competent, critical and creative users of geographical inquiry methods and skills” (ACARA, 2013)

Favier describes geographical inquiry as being comprised of two components, with separate, but connected, aims:

“Fundamental geographic inquiry mainly aims to increase our knowledge about the characteristics and functioning of the world around us, while applied geographic inquiry methods mainly aims to develop knowledge about how to improve the world around us” (2011, p.11).

Applied geographic inquiry methods, as described above, reflect a perspective on information literacy that Lupton and Bruce label as “Transformative,” according to their GeST Windows i.e. information literacy is seen as a range of information practices used to transform oneself and society” (Lupton & Bruce, 2010, p.13).  In the final questionnaire, a small number of students’ responses indicated that the information they had found had led to more transformative thinking / applied geographic thinking e.g.“It is interesting because if everyone works together to solve this issue there could be a great improvement in the river’s health” and “how the Swan River can improve with the help of the swan river trust and the other sponsors and the community.” While these responses demonstrate an awareness that members of the community can contribute to positive environmental change, the nature of the task, and time constraints, did not encourage students to personally design or take action on their chosen issue, in order to  or improve the world around us. Ideally, a successful and meaningful geographical inquiry should provide opportunities for this to occur.  Unfortunately, as Kidman points out, “Although geographical inquiry is heavily advocated in Australia’s new Australian Curriculum: Geography, more work is needed in this area relating to teacher professional learning” (2012, p. 311).

Information-Learning Theories

While numerous models of guided inquiry exist, they are generally based on similar, constructivist pedagogy, whereby learning is student-directed, relevant and meaningful.  As Paily succinctly summarises,

“In a constructivist learning situation learners bring unique prior experiences and beliefs and knowledge is constructed uniquely and individually, in multiple ways, using a variety of tools, resources, and contexts” (2013, p.39). 

Informed by theorists, such as Dewey, Kelly and Bruner, constructivist information-learning models have been created, which reflect the notion that learning is an active process, that occurs in distinct stages.  One such model is Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP):

“The model of the ISP describes feelings, thoughts, and actions of students involved in complex inquiry tasks in which they are required to construct their own understandings.  The seven process stages are initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, presentation, and assessment.”(Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p. 18)

Kuhlthau has since modified her model to create the Guided Inquiry Design Process, which can be seen below:

guided-inquiry-design-process(Source: Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012)

Barbara Stripling has developed a similar model, using different terminology, as can be seen here:


(Source: Stripling, 2010)

Another variation is known as the 8 Ws, and was developed in the 1990s by Annette Lamb:


(Source: SLIS-IUPUI, 2011)

Although these three models (and many others) use different terms, descriptions and format, they all  demonstrate how information-learning is a process, made up of distinct stages, and that these stages are interconnected, fluid and cyclical.  These models also provide learners with the opportunity for higher level thinking skills, and promote movement through Bloom’s revised taxonomy, as seen below:

blooms_revised_taxomony1(Source: Morrison, 2012)

Models of guided inquiry all commence with orientation stages, where students’ interest is stimulated and background information is presented and/or explored.  Whether these stages are called “Watching”  “Connect” “Open” or”Immerse,” they are often ignored in more traditional classroom research environments, to students’ detriment.  As discussed in my Results post, several students were disengaged throughout the process, particularly at the start.  Branch (2003), an exponent of Kuhlthau’s ISP in junior high school classrooms, stresses that practitioners need to “provide time for students to gain background knowledge about the topic before expecting them to focus” (p. 60). An excursion to the Swan River, which was the focus of their geographical inquiry, was initially planned, but the excursion was not approved.  Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari argue that carefully-planned field trips are an integral part of the inquiry process, (2007, p. 72).  This missed opportunity was a significant factor, which affected student interest levels, and reduced the potential for deeper understanding, personal relevance, meaningfulness, and transformative thinking.  I would recommend that obtaining approval for this excursion in the future should be a priority.

The next stage in the above models involves students formulating questions based on what students already know and what they need to find out.  This stage was included in the research & planning phase of the ILA task, and formed the beginning of the inquiry.  Students were required to choose an environmental issue relating to the Swan River, create a mindmap of what they already know, and then develop focus questions relating to what they want/need to find out.  This requirement certainly fits well within guided inquiry methodology, as students were given the opportunity to generate open-ended questions which are important and interesting to them, and which are then addressed in order to construct their own deeper understanding (Kuhlthau et al., 2007, p. 134).  The teacher discovered that students had little or no prior experience in this type of activity, so she started one lesson with a fun, interactive introduction to open-ended question formulation.  More time would have provided students with greater opportunity to practise and develop higher level questioning.  Carruthers and Lampe explain the difference between closed, topic-based questions, and open, concept-based questions:

“One of the examples discussed was the topic of holidays. With the topic-based approach, some typical questions would include: When is the holiday celebrated? Where is it celebrated? How is it celebrated? A student might then play some games, make some foods, or create typical decorations. A concept-based approach could address how the celebrations and holidays of a people reflect cultural heritage. This leads to comparisons, analysis, and evaluation; all are higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy” (Carruthers & Lampe, 2011, p. 15).

A bank of questioning examples and frameworks could have been useful for the ILA students at this stage.  If given more time in class, it may also have been useful for students to work together, in small groups, to develop, share and evaluate questions.  Collaboration at this and other stages is advocated by Kuhlthau et al, as it allows students to co-construct knowledge ,and provides opportunities for individuals to think about and assess their own learning. “Inquiry learning is a social process in which students learn from each other in a community of learners” (Kuhlthau et al., 2007, p. 36).

Locating and evaluating information are the next steps in a guided inquiry.  While ILA students were required to select and gather information, they often lacked the skills to perform this efficiently and effectively.  As noted in student questionnaire responses, many students found difficulty in finding specific information which answered their questions, and others mentioned finding difficulty in assessing the accuracy and reliability of information they did find.  Strategies and tools are, therefore, required to support students in effective searching and resource evaluation.  Students also need to understand the different types of searches required at different stages of the inquiry process, referred to by Kuhlthau et al as preliminary, exploratory, comprehensive,and summary (2007, p. 84).  FitzGerald has found that specific instruction and student experience is needed to enable students to effectively understand and implement these different types of searches (2011, p. 27).

“The objective of inquiry learning is not merely to collect facts but to reflect and interpret those facts to construct deep understanding (Kuhlthau et al., 2007, p. 90).  This can occur if adequate time and planning is given to the earlier stages in the information search process, and is also reliant upon specific support throughout the process, such as structured notetaking, and scaffolds to assist with synthesis of information (FitzGerald, 2011, p. 37).  One of the elements of the ILA research assessment was for students to use appropriate recording and note taking techniques, however these skills were not specifically addressed or facilitated during class time, and students would have benefitted from some organisational tools and/or templates e.g. graphic organisers.  Kuhlthau et al. also recommend the use of an inquiry journal throughout the ISP, for the recording of  ideas, sources, explorations, detailed notes, reflections, and more (2007, p. 139).

The final creation of a written report to present findings was supported by a teacher-created planning template.  Many students were relieved to receive this, and found it very helpful to focus and structure their ideas and information.  While task expectations stated that students should evaluate different points of view and solutions related to their chosen issue, lack of time generally prevented these elements from being explored in any deep or meaningful way.  Moreover, although students were asked to find and evaluate solutions to an environmental issue, they were not encouraged to formulate a practical solution themselves to take action and use their new understandings to transform their world.  As the task was individual and assessment was for teacher only, the opportunity to share information and learn from each other, in a community of learners, was missed.   If facilitating a similar inquiry in the future, with similar time limitations, one option for collaboration and sharing is via the use of a range of Web 2.0 tools, such as shared Evernote folders, a class blog, Twitter, pinterest boards etc…

The ILA inquiry task includes an assessable reflection sheet for completion at the end of the program.  This is an important stage in any inquiry, as students think about and evaluate their own learning and experiences, to inform their future learning, to continue the learning cycle, and to help guide teachers in future planning.  One missing element from this reflection sheet is any reference to feelings about the task.  Kuhlthau et al. have discovered that learners experience a predictable range of emotions throughout the ISP, and that it is useful to be aware of these along the journey.  For example, most learners tend to feel confused, doubtful and frustrated during the exploration stage, but are usually feeling more confident and satisfied towards the end of the process (Kuhlthau et al., 2007, p. 19). 


While this geographical inquiry contains some elements of a guided inquiry, following a process of information searching, there are many modifications which could be implemented to strengthen its basis in inquiry methodology.  One of the main hindrances was time:  lack of time in class for students to construct their learning in a community of learners, and lack of flexibility with timetabling at a school level, which was a factor in the field trip cancellation.  Many of the elements required for a successful inquiry are present in the task structure, such as students choosing their own focus, formulating their own questions, and evaluating solutions to relevant issues, and, given more time, increased higher level thinking has the potential to occur.  However, a more  successful inquiry could result if other stages, tools and scaffolds were put into place; for example, a focus on immersion and wonder at the start of the topic, more opportunities to co-construct new knowledge in a collaborative community of learners, and a focus on using information to creating an end-product which could actually have a meaningful effect in the real world, beyond simply reporting on findings.  Other broader recommendations would be for the school to operate under a more flexible timetabling structure, and to promote inquiry learning across the curriculum, including adequate teacher training.


ACARA (2013). The Australian Curriculum v5.1 Geography. Retrieved from

Branch, J. L. (2003). Instructional intervention is the key: Supporting adolescent information seeking. School Libraries Worldwide, 9(2), 47-61.

Carruthers, C., & Lampe, K. (2011). Taking on inquiry in Iowa. School Library Monthly, 28(1), 14-16.

Favier, T. (2011). Geographic Information Systems in inquiry-based secondary geography education: Theory and Practice. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Ipskamp.
Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41.
Kidman, G. (2012). Geographical inquiry in Australian schools: a retrospective analysis. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 21(4), 311-319.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2012). Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M., & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds: Generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In Practising information literacy: Bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together (pp. 3-27). Wagga Wagga, Australia: Centre for Information Studies.

Morrison, D. (2012, January 11). Online learning insights: Blogs and Bloom’s. Retrieved from

Paily, M. U. (2013). Creating constructivist learning environment: Role of “Web 2.0” technology. International Forum of Teaching and Studies, 9(1), 39-52.

SLIS-IUPUI (2011). Virtual information inquiry: 8Ws. Retrieved from

Stripling, B. (2010). Teaching students to think in the digital environment: Digital literacy and digital inquiry. School Library Monthly, 26(8). Retrieved from

Action Taken

The Year 10 Geography course allowed for only four class periods, of 55 minutes each, for students to work on this particular inquiry at school.  Given such time constraints, the teacher had little opportunity to take action after the first questionnaire.  Many students noted, at the start of the topic, that they generally found it difficult to find specific, detailed information.  Therefore, a lesson centred around expert search strategies could have proven to be very useful to this group of students, but time did not allow this.  Also, as around a third of students responded that they had no interest in the topic, in the first questionnaire, a learning activity could have been facilitated to create more interest and excitement about the topic, if more time was available.  As most guided inquiry models suggest, tuning in / initiation with the topic at the start of an inquiry is an essential stage in the process, and I will discuss this further in my recommendations post.

Teaching points during this project were, by necessity, brief, and related to assessable criteria with which the teacher felt the students might need assistance and/or which students raised as problematic.  She introduced them to the online bibliography generator, which is available to students through the school “moodle” page, resulting, in the final questionnaire, with at least one student mentioning this tool as something they found easy to do when they research.  She began another lesson with a brief, hands-on activity to introduce the students to creating focus questions, after discovering, through conversation, that students had little or no experience with this vital part of the inquiry process.  By the end of their inquiry, students were required to present a written report on one issue related to the health of the Swan River.  Several students were unsure how to appropriately plan and structure a report, so the teacher presented them with a planning template, which most students found very helpful.

The above examples demonstrate a willingness, by the teacher, to cater to student needs, as they arise in class.  Although this teacher was not able to take significant action, based on results of the first questionnaire, she will be more likely and able to take action in the long term.  After analysing the results of both surveys, the teacher now has the opportunity to share this information with colleagues, and use the information to guide future planning.

Methods for Gathering Data


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In order to examine the development in students’ skills and understanding, as well as any change in attitudes and emotions, over the course of the inquiry, my primary method for collecting this data was via a questionnaire.  As the school has a 1:1 laptop program, and is currently promoting digital literacy, I created an online questionnaire (click here to access) using Google Docs.  Apart from being visually appealing and easy for students to access and use, this tool provided me with the added benefit of automatically saving and collating all responses, so I did not have to worry about losing or sifting through paper responses.  I would highly recommend this tool for surveys, questionnaires and quizzes, with high school students in particular – it can be accessed as part of the Google Drive section of any Google account.

The format and content of this questionnaire is based on the School Library Impact Measure (SLIM) toolkit, developed at the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, by Todd, Kuhlthau and Heistrom (2005).  This toolkit was designed as a means of assessing student learning throughout a unit of guided inquiry, and enables teachers “to chart students’ knowledge and experiences throughout the process” (Todd, Kuhlthau, & Heistrom, 2005, p.5).  I have used a version of the SLIM toolkit, which has been used by Lee FitzGerald (2011, p.29) with Australian Year 11 History students, as this is closely linked to my ILA students.

One difference between the original SLIM and the newer version is the inclusion of feelings/emotions – I chose to include this, as emotions are a big component of most guided inquiry models, and I was interested to see the emotional change in my ILA students from the start to the end of their inquiry.  Another difference is asking WHAT interests the students about the topic, rather than HOW interested are the students – I included this, as my Year 10 students are capable of articulating this, and their level of interest should be evident in their responses; I also wanted to see if the nature, as well as level, of their interest in the topic changed as a result of the inquiry.  The final questionnaire, in line with Todd, Kuhlthau and Heistrom’s recommendation (2005, p.19), included an extra question – “What did you learn in doing this research unit?”  This was included for students to reflect and share any new information skills or understandings that they believe they have acquired.  As well as observing student changes through the research process, all questions are also very useful for teachers in regards to future planning e.g. to see what interests the students, and to find out information literacy areas in need of further development.  Questions used by FitzGerald can be seen in Figure 1 below:

SLIM toolkit

Figure 1 – SLIM toolkit questions, taken from FitzGerald, 2005, p.29


My ILA is a Year 10 Geography class, researching the health of the Swan River.  This is not a class I teach, and I was present purely as an observer.  As the unit of work was only running for four to five weeks, two of which were school holidays, and given that they were only allocated four lessons to work on their inquiry in class time, I chose to employ only two questionnaires – one at the start of the inquiry and one at the end.  I undertook the questionnaire across two classes, each with the same mix of abilities, and with the same teacher, and collated their responses as one group.  Each class consists of 25 students, but I knew my chances of obtaining two completed questionnaires from every member of one class was unlikely, given that some were planning early or late holidays, some have music lessons during class time, and some might have to complete other work in class and not have time for the questionnaire.  Out of 50 students, I received completed responses to BOTH surveys from 31 students, which is a useful number to work with, in terms of this analysis. 

Each questionnaire was completed during class time, and each one took approximately 15 minutes.  I was present during the completion of each questionnaire, to direct the students to the online survey, which I had uploaded onto their Year 10 Geography Moodle page, to personally clarify the task, be available to answer queries, and to thank them for their assistance and participation.  I explained to the students that their responses would not be shared publicly, and that the information would be used to give teacher librarians (of which I am one) and Humanities teachers a better understanding of how the students feel about the research process, and what areas of information literacy need to be addressed to a deeper extent in future planning i.e. for the benefit of students, as well as teachers.



As well as conducting the questionnaire, I was also able to observe the students, while they undertook their research, and to observe the methods the teacher used to facilitate the inquiry, including task documents and frameworks.  By observing classes in action, I was able to gain a better understanding of reasons for questionnaire responses, and to acquire additional information about how the students undertook their research.


I observed each of the two Year 10 classes on three occasions, during their inquiry task.  I was able to walk from student to student to observe, ask questions and answer questions.  I also presented a brief revision workshop with each class, concerning using the online bibliography generator.  The class teacher was very helpful and supportive of my project, and emailed me any relevant documents and frameworks, related to the students’ inquiry task.


Fitzgerald, L. (2011). The twin purposes of Guided Inquiry: Guiding student inquiry and evidence based practice. Scan, 30(1), 26-41.

Todd, R. J., Kuhlthau, C. C., & Heinstrom, J. E. (2005). School library impact measure (SLIM): A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of guided inquiry through the school library. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University.


As one would expect, there are overall changes in students’ responses between the first and final questionnaire, largely due to a deeper understanding of the topic, as a result of the inquiry process.  However, some students remained unengaged throughout the inquiry.  These results will be addressed and analysed separately for each question, below.  Direct quotations from student responses will be presented in their original form i.e. errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation are student errors – this gives a more precise insight into the students themselves.  The topic that the students were given was “The Health of the Swan River.”  Participants were studying Year 10 Geography in a co-educational, metropolitan school.

“Write down what you know about this topic”

Statements about topic

As set out in the SLIM toolkit (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heistrom, 2005), I first categorised all students’ responses as either factual statements, explanation statements, or conclusion statements.  I then created the above graph to represent my findings.  Students each gave varying numbers of statements, ranging from 0 from a couple of students in the first questionnaire to 10 from one student in the final questionnaire.

In the first questionnaire, statements were predominantly factual e.g. “swan river has jellyfish” “people go jetskiing in it” “Captain James Stirling discover it” “The Swan River’s located in Western Australia and it’s a bit polluted.” The number of facts given by students in the final questionnaire was not only larger, but the quality of these statements was also higher and more complex, reflecting recently acquired knowledge e.g. “The Swan River (Derbal Yerrigan) is 72 kilometres long” “animals in it have been found dead” “Algal blooms can be red, green, yellow/brown and found in freshwater or marine environments.”

As can be seen in the graph above, there was a drastic change in the number of explanation statements between the first and final questionnaires, and a significant increase in the number of conclusion statements.  This demonstrates a deeper understanding of the topic, which has been achieved through the geographical inquiry e.g. “Poison Algae is causing not only a higher toxicity level in waters but is also destroying habitats and killing wild life” “It has extreme pollution due to urban drainage and excess chemicals” “Pollution is caused by contaminants in storm-waters, herbicides and pesticides that end up in the Swan River’s waters. Also people throwing away rubbish in the river contaminates the river.”

In his first questionnaire, Student R  responded to this question with “N/A.”  In contrast, his final response demonstrated significant new learning in the form of facts, explanations and conclusion: “Feral Fish are a major problem in the Swan River. -They can cause native fish species to die out, spread disease and dig up the river. -They are a threat to the health of the Swan River. -They are dumped into the river by people who don’t want them anymore.”  On the other hand, Student B’s responses showed far less progress – going from “nothing” at the start of the project, to “the water is not very clean” at the end.  Student B appears to be lacking effort and enthusiasm for the inquiry project – approaches to potentially reduce this issue, which was also experienced by a few other students, will be explored in my Recommendations post.

“How much do you know about this topic?”

Knowledge Scores

The knowledge scores shown in the above graph correspond to the following coding, used for student responses in answer to the above question:

Nothing – 0     Not Much – 1     Some – 2     Quite a Bit – 3     A Great Deal – 4

As can be seen in the above graph, most students knew Not Much about the topic at the outset of the inquiry, but this perception of their knowledge jumped to almost Quite a Bit overall, by the end.  Within individual responses, some students’ increases  in scores were more dramatic than others.  For example, Student L changed from Nothing to A Great Deal and several students moved up at least 2 categories.  Smaller changes were generally recorded for those students who had already scored fairly highly on the first questionnaire.  However, there were a couple of instances of students who responded with Nothing or Not Much in both questionnaires.  Again, this disengagement will be discussed in my Recommendations post.  While there is a pleasing change between the first and final questionnaires, there is still room for improvement, as ideally the average would be closer to 4: A Great Deal.

“What interests you about this topic?”

Interest themes

This graph demonstrates how students’ interests changed over the period of their research, based on their new learning.  Although a wide variety of responses was given, distinct themes emerged, which can be seen in the graph.  The decrease in the response of Nothing / Don’t Know shows that a higher percentage of students became engaged in the topic, over the course of the process.

While students stating their interest in an environmental issue implies an interest in wildlife, I only added to the Wildlife tally if this was explicitly mentioned. Responses included under the theme of Wildlife include “I like swans” “there are fish in the river” and “swan river jellyfish.”  Responses categorised under Leisure Activities were, similarly, mainly short and fact-based e.g. “water skiing” and “it has heaps of boats in it.” However, one student reflected on the impact of the river’s health on the leisure activities – “Jet Skiiing is a problem now since the water is dangerous to swim in,” demonstrating higher level thinking.

As with responses to “Write down what you know about this topic,” an increased understanding was evident in responses about interests in the final questionnaire, within the theme of Environmental Issues.  For example, in the first questionnaire, students responded with “The conservation aspect of the topic” and “The fact that it’s addressing the environmental issue of pollution with negative annotations.” After the project, responses were more sophisticated e.g. “The thing that interests me about this topic is how all these small things can have such a major effect on a river and which can then create issues for animals and humans” and “How the algal blooms manage to kill most of the fish in the river.”  This was also the theme with the most dramatic positive change in interest from one questionnaire to the next, demonstrating that education about a specific issue can increase interest in the issue.

Community Action was a new theme in the final questionnaire, which no students mentioned in the first one.  This signifies a deeper understanding of the issues, gained through the inquiry, resulting in evidence of some students reaching a transformative perspective.  According to Lupton and Bruce (2010), when information is used in a transformative way (the “transformative window”), “we use information to question the status quo, challenge existing practice, empower oneself and the community” (p. 14).  Examples include “if everyone works together to solve this issue there could be a great improvement in the river’s health” and “How we can change to let the river survive.”  

“Write down what you think is EASY about researching your topic” 

Graph Easy to Do

Table of Definitions and Examples of “EASY” Themes

Most of the student responses to this question, in both questionnaires, concerned the location of information.  One of the main changes between responses in the two questionnaires can be seen in the emergence of additional themes.  This was not surprising, as the teacher focussed on specific skills throughout the inquiry, such as developing focus questions, and creating a bibliography.  Based on observation and conversation, most students had very little prior experience in formulating their own questions to guide an inquiry or research project, which explains why this was not mentioned in the first survey.  I will discuss this further in my Recommendations post.

Unlike at the start of their inquiry, by the time students completed the final questionnaire, many of them found it easy to find more detailed information on a specific topic.  This may be partly due to students being given some key, useful websites at the start of their research, such as that of the Swan River Trust, which I observed many of the students using as their predominant resource.  Therefore, the high scores for this theme on the final questionnaire are not necessarily due to students becoming more skilful at using expert search strategies, which results may imply.

“Write down what you think is DIFFICULT about researching your topic”

Graph Difficult to do

Table of Definitions and Examples of “DIFFICULT” Themes

As expected, fewer students (only 2) found Everything difficult to do by the end of the inquiry, inferring that nearly all students felt confident about at least one aspect of the process.  As also seen in results for “What Students Found Easy to Do,” most responses here concerned the location of information.  This  demonstrates that this stage is the primary focus of research for most students, possibly due to lack of experience with an inquiry-based approach and process.  Responses appear to suggest that students are not as familiar with other aspects of information literacy, such as evaluating information, formulating questions, synthesising information, and communicating information.

Although a significant proportion of students reported that they found finding specific information “easy to do,” more than half of the students also claimed that finding Useful Info and/or finding Info at Right Level proved to be difficult.  It appears that, while many students were able to locate information on a certain topic without too many problems, the difficulty lay in finding details or answers to their specific questions e.g. “It is difficult to know who is responsible and exactly how do contaminants end up in the river” and “It was difficult to answer ‘where questions’, such as ‘where is the most polluted part of the Swan River?'”  Student N was disappointed that one particular website did not contain all the answers he required: “The Swan River Trust website did not have all the information.”  These responses indicate that many students lack the skills to effectively search for detailed information, particularly online, and that they are not accustomed to finding and corroborating information from a wide range of sources.  Methods to address this weakness will be discussed in the Recommendations post.

“How are you FEELING about your topic?”

Feelings chart

Students were invited to tick as many options as relevant to them, from the choice of feelings listed in the graph above.  Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to also gauge feelings at a mid-point in the inquiry, which would have given a clearer idea of the emotional journey of the students through the process.  Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2007) advocate that students experience different emotions and feelings at different stages of the inquiry process, represented by the options in the questionnaire.  These authors claim that the dominant feeling at the start of an inquiry is uncertainty, which is certainly reflected in the results above.  They also describe how students become more confident as they prepare to present their new understandings, and become satisfied at the presentation stage (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p. 20), which also rings true with student responses for this task.  Many more students also felt relieved by the end of their research, but it is not clear whether this is due to completing the work, or finishing the topic.  A number of students remained uncertain and/or anxious after presenting their reports, which may refer to concern about passing or receiving a good mark.  Responses in the Other category included “don’t really care” and “hungry,” again highlighting a small proportion of students who lack engagement with the topic and process.

“What did you learn in doing this research project?”

Graph learned

This question was only asked in the final questionnaire.  According to the SLIM toolkit (Todd, Kuhlthau & Heinstrom, 2005), this question was included to give students an opportunity to reflect on any newly-acquired skills in information literacy.  However, when conducting the survey, I did not make this requirement explicit to the students, so their responses mainly focus on knowledge, rather than skills.  In future administration of the SLIM toolkit with other students, I will need to make the required nature of responses clearer, in order to better evaluate skills development.  As only 2 students mentioned an information-related skill in this section i.e. Info Lit (“How to correctly link information to a source” and “That dot points are easier to take down then paragraphs”), I chose broader themes, as seen in the graph above.  Disengaged students again made their mark in the Nothing category, with responses ranging from “That I don’t like SOCE” to “I learned that the Swan River is a bit more of a bore then I thought.”

The theme of Facts refers to surface knowledge, or information which is seen through a “Generic window” (Lupton & Bruce, 2010) e.g. “the water is not very clean” “I learned how algae reproduces” and “I learnt a lot about the Elizabeth Quay project.”  The theme of Understanding encompasses statements which reflect a deeper understanding of issues, effects, relationships, and possible solutions, in line with Lupton and Bruce’s (2010) “Situated” and sometimes “Transformative” windows.  Examples of responses which fit into this category include “The way we are living now could harm the river for a very long time” and “Perth’s riverside location means management practices in the Swan Canning Catchment will need to accommodate understanding of climate change impacts throughout the region.”  Ideally, with a successful inquiry, responses in this theme would outweigh those in the Facts category, especially at a Year 10 level.  Results therefore highlight students’ lack of experience with this type of learning and research process, and also the limitations on learning caused by a strict timetable and term program, as students were only given 4 class sessions, of 55 minutes each, to work on their inquiry.  Also, student learning can be enhanced through collaboration, as will be explored in the Recommendations post, but this project was entirely individual.


Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lupton, M., & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds: Generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In Practising information literacy: Bringing theories of learning, practice and information literacy together (pp. 3-27). Wagga Wagga, Australia: Centre for Information Studies.

Todd, R. J., Kuhlthau, C. C., & Heinstrom, J. E. (2005). School library impact measure (SLIM): A toolkit and handbook for tracking and assessing student learning outcomes of guided inquiry through the school library. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, Rutgers University.

Peer Feedback

Peer feedback is a valuable way to learn more about this topic by reading and analysing blog posts by other authors, as well as having the opportunity to reflect on and refine one’s own blog posts after receiving comments from others.  Please feel free to add comments and/or questions to any of my posts.

Below, you will find links to two blog posts, which were created by other students of the Master of Education course at QUT.  Under each link, I have reproduced the comments I made for each of these posts.  These comments can also be found on the blogs in question.

1. Nyssa’s annotated bibliography

“You have found a great range of pertinent resources, both Australian and International, including the FitzGerald article, which I also used and found very valuable. Your summaries give me a really good idea of the authors’ goals and focus, with some standing out as must-reads for me in my own research. Having explored Kuhlthau, and Harada and Yoshina, I am keen to dip into Gillon and Stotter, Taylor and Young, Murdoch, and Lehman, in particular. Although my ILA is a Year 10 Geography class, I recently met with the History Co-ordinator to discuss collaborative planning for some History units for next year, with a Guided Inquiry focus. I am really excited (and a bit scared..) about this opportunity, and those resources will prove invaluable, so thank you! Although they are all directly related to History, you have clearly distinguished their varying content, which looks useful in different ways.

If you have time, you might want to edit your summaries to reduce the word count, as some may exceed the recommended length. I would also suggest including the essay as a separate page or post, as it is not easily found from the tabs at the top. One tiny typo in the Callison summary: “exert” instead of “expert”.

By the way, I think your blog looks great. It is clear and easy to read and navigate, plus I love the images :)”

2. Juliette’s Essay

“Juliette, I really enjoyed reading your essay. You have drawn on a wide variety of sources to inform your learning, and have synthesised the authors’ main points in a clear and cohesive fashion. It is great to see how you personally connect with the theories and research mentioned, such as Vygotsky’s Notion of Intervention, and the Goldberg article. Two of the areas upon which you focus – emotions and social context – are crucial to the inquiry process, and you explain this well in your discussion. I liked how you explored Inquiry Learning in general terms, as well as specifically relating this process to your ILA topic of Religion, whilst also examining how more prolific studies, suggestions and frameworks in Humanities subjects can help guide the use of Inquiry Learning in Religion. You concluded your essay strongly, especially by presenting and justifying the Holistic model you will be utiising. I also like this model, as it implies fluidity, as well as connectivity, between stages, it highlights emotions at each stage, and provides clear points of focus along the journey.

You engagement and enthusiasm for Inquiry Learning is evident in your depth of understanding and your writing style and comments. I am sure you will be a fantastic exponent and advocate of IL, and look forward to hearing about your ongoing explorations, practice and experiences in this area.”

Application of Information-Learning Theories



While investigating and researching Guided Inquiry (GI) and Geography, I have been conducting my own inquiry and travelling through the Information Search Process (ISP).  Reflecting on my personal experience in relation to the elements of Kuhlthau’s GI design framework and ISP (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012), it was useful to be conscious of of my feelings during each stage.  At some stages, my feelings contrasted with Kuhlthau’s generalisations, which demonstrates how students can feel differently from each other at the different stages, and this may vary from task to task.  As a result, it is important for teachers to make students aware that it is expected and natural to experience varying waves of emotion throughout the process, and for teachers to provide adequate support and guidance along the way.  Another discovery for me has been the value of the “open” and “immerse” stages.  For this task, these stages made me excited, engaged and motivated, and gave me useful background information.  As I found the “explore” stage quite difficult and a bit overwhelming, my positive feelings about the previous two stages helped to balance out these feelings.  I have described my journey below:


Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2012). Guided inquiry design framework. Retrieved from

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