Facilitating learning through guided enquiry

Professor Carol Kuhlthau, Rutgers University, USA

The problem is—and this is true of books and every other medium—we don’t know whether the information we find [on the Web] is accurate or not. We don’t necessarily know what its provenance is. So we have to teach people how to assess what they’ve found. That’s a skill, a critical-thinking capacity, which is important no matter what the medium. It’s just more dramatic in the World Wide Web, where there’s so much juxtaposition of the good stuff and not-so-good stuff and flat-out-wrong stuff or deliberate misinformation or plain ignorance.  Vinton Cerf

Common misunderstandings

  • The Internet is a digital library
  • Users are competent, independent and self sufficient
  • There is no need for library or librarian

What value do librarians add to learning in the information environment?

What is the essential role of librarians in 21st century education?

A definition of information literacy (IL)

The ability to locate,


and use information


for learning, thinking and creating.

IL in the 21st century

  • IL is the core of what it means to be educated in the 21st century.
  • It is understanding how to learn and innovate from a variety of sources of info.
  • Literacy is not just reading and maths any more.
  • Textbooks do not put students into the real world of contending with multiple sources of information.
  • Research matters.

To build, sustain and improve a field, use this triad:

  • tradition and knowledge
  • expertise and best practice
  • research and innovation

Constructivist theories tell us that there is uncertainty in learning.  There are three dimensions of experience from the student perspective:

  • Affective – feeling
  • Cognitive – thinking
  • Physical – acting

Model of the information search process (Kuhlthau 2004)

Model of the information search process

Uncertainty is the beginning of learning – without it, we are collecting fact; copying and pasting.

Student quote:

“The mind doesn’t take everything and put it into order automatically… Understanding that is the biggest help.”

It’s not what students expect.

Zone of intervention

This is the area in which an information user can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with great difficulty.  Intervene at the right time.

Potential zones of intervention in the information search process

Invitation – getting started

Selection – background, ideas

Exploration – confusing uncertain

Formulation – focus turning point

Collection – focusing gathering

Presentation – creating, acting, solving

Guided inquiry

Grounded in the research of the information search process [ISP].  Based on constructivist approach to learning in a complex information environment.  The goal is to prepare students for living and working in the changing information environment of the 21st century.  Guided inquiry is what we do; ISP is what the information users do.

Guided inquiry design

This is a framework for you to use to guide your students through the inquiry process.

Guided inquiry design process

The stages are: Open, Immerse, Explore, Identify, Gather, Create, Share, Evaluate.

The third space

Most school learning takes place in the second space – doesn’t mean much to students.

The guided inquiry design process roots the learning in the students’ world.  Transforms the library into an inquiry lab for IL.

Combining the guided inquiry design process into the information search process

Combining guided inquiry and information search

Information workers consider information-seeking a necessary preliminary activity to the more significant endeavour of using the information to accomplish the tasks and goals that encompass their work.  People who are proficient at this process are extremely beneficial to the success of their organisation 🙂



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      • Ah, Ok Laura, I think it is important to make that explicit in the post. I was wondering whether you got permission to reproduce the graphics? I wrote to Carol’s publisher to ask permission to reproduce the Guided Inquiry design process graphic on my blog (http://inquirylearningblog.wordpress.com/) a couple of months ago, but I haven’t received an answer yet.

        Also, is the definition of information literacy a direct quote from Carol, or is it your paraphrase?

        And one other thing – it’s important to use uppercase (Guided Inquiry) when describing Carol’s model to distinguish it from ‘guided inquiry’ (lower case) which is another model from science education.

        All best wishes, Mandy

      • Hi Mandy,
        The graphics are my re-drawings of slides Carol used in the presentation (as unfortunately the photos I took weren’t good enough to use in the post). The post points to her original publication too, in case people want to see the original version.
        Thanks for clarifying the difference between guided inquiry and Guided Inquiry.

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