California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 37, No. 1
December, 1996-January, 1997

The Fourth R is Research

It's time to recognize information skills as crucial for our students

Rich Thome, Cardiff School District

To those of us principals and superintendents involved with the new technologies in education, it's clearer than ever that they are challenging us to change our approach in schools. As one of the first district technology coordinators in the nationŠin the Capistrano Unified School District in the early 1980s--I was lucky enough to glimpse what the future would be in our classrooms--a future that is now upon us.

A change of immense proporations.

Back then, technology was seen as an enriching addition to our rigorous curriculum; it did not seriously challenge us to rethink and retool our delivery system. We never questioned our primary purpose--to teach the same three R's that have been our focus since the days of the one-room schoolhouse. However, today's marketplace demands that we add a fourth R if we are to prepare our students for the world of work and study--the R for research. It's all because of the internet. Our students have the capacity to become experts on any topic, simply because they now hold the key to infinite stores of knowledge and all the resources one can imagine. Our dreams of "classrooms without walls" and online access to the libraries, museums, and think tanks of the world are now attainable.

Today we face the imperative of giving students the skills to effectively navigate their way through the vast resources on the Internet (see box, below). Those ten basic skills and abilities are essential to this fourth R.

All of this involves a very different way of thinking about teaching. Our classrooms need to become research laboratories. Most traditional lessons would then be beginning points, not ends in themselves.

As students pursue discoveries using online resources, we must teach them to think critically. They must learn how to recognize bias, propaganda, and commercially driven information, to think both concretely and abstractly, to reason and to question.

10 Essential Research Skills
To effectively use the Internet, students must have the ability to
  1. Determine whether the Internet is the best tool for the research or whether the information may be found elsewhere (such as in books).
  2. Define the critical attribute or essence of the search topic.
  3. Effectively phrase requests to most effectively target the research topic.
  4. Limit the search so that is centered on a more focused selection of materials.
  5. Effectively use a variety of search engines.
  6. Recognize resources that may be too large for searching, may load too slowly, or are error-prone.
  7. Scan through the resources quickly in order to focus on the most valuable information available.
  8. Group promising resources for further evaluation.
  9. Think critically in order to take intuitive leaps to other resources.
  10. Effectively organize and record good findings.

A student without research skills like those will soon be lost. Today, a Web-Crawler search on the Internet for information on dolphins, for example, produces more than 1,400 selections--and the Web is growing astronomically. Infusing the fourth R into the curriculum is the educational challenge of the 1990s. Students will face the same demands--to find essential information almost instantaneously--in their first job.

Taking the lead.

To meet the challenge of the fourth R, superintendents and principals must initiate a monumental shift in perception by educating and persuading school boards, fellow administrators, and teachers. We must convince all that making meaning out of the vast amount of information available to our students is a challenge that must be met and that research skills are basic to a sound education in the 21st century.

Let's start with our staffs. We need to form "think tanks" of teachers and others to discuss how to integrate online research skills into classroom activities and then how to make a shift in practice to become motivators and facilitators.

We must present our case to our school boards and secure the support to focus on this new discipline. We need to convince the community that research skills must be included in performance standards for students. The ability to obtain, organize, and evaluate information is a skill students will use their entire lifetime--it really is the fourth R.

Richard Thome is District Superintendent for the Cardiff School District and chairperson of the San Diego County Office of Education's Superintendent's Technology Advisory Committee (STAC.) He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the October, 1996, issue of Electronic Learning and appears here by permission of the author.

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