Using the Information Process to raise the cognitive load of extended writing tasks
(aka:How you can have your cake, and eat it too)

By Mrs Maureen Twomey
and Mr Peter Whitehouse
St. Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace.


The use of information services available (such as CDROM, online databases, the World Wide Web, E-mail and so on) necessitate a fundamental change in the way we ask our students to respond to extended writing tasks.

Need proof?

TAKE 10 Mins: Select a topic that you would ask students to write an essay on. Use the link below to jump to a whole bunch of free essays that were prepared earlier and find one that would suffice for your topic:


Stuck for a topic? Try one of these:

  • Muscle Tissue In Red Vs. White Meat
    Emphasise differences in muscular structure and in the relative presence of iron. Discuss striated and smooth muscle tissue as well as myoglobin and its function in the physiology of animals particularly in the supply and transport of oxygen.
  • Plate Tectonics
    Discuss the theory of plate tectonics, describe how exploring plate tectonics helps us to better understand the validity of Continental Drift
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average
    Discuss the Dow Jones industrial average, who started it, how and when it was started, what it consists of, what companies are on it today/past, and its affects on our economy. Compare it to other indices and a discuss how the Dow benefits our economy.
  • The Postmodern Film
    Examine the postmodern film and its essential elements. Also discuss the difficulty inherent in defining the term "postmodern." Use several contemporary movies and analyse them in detail including The Crying Game, Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction.
  • The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet
    Analyse the character of the Nurse in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shows how she reveals their tragedies through both her offhand but oddly prophetic remarks and her earthy pragmatism.
  • Nutrition and Athletic Performance
    Explore the role of nutrition in athletic performance. Discuss the value as well as potential detrimental effects of fat and carbohydrate loading, hydration, vitamins and minerals. Suggest recommended intake of these elements.
  • Aristotle / Contributions To Mathematics
    Discuss Aristotle's contributions to the field of mathematics. Specifically discuss Aristotle's views on mathematics, in terms of the advancement of science, and his logical approach to mathematical study through syllogisms.
  • This workshop is designed to help you understand the issues involved in encouraging authentic authorship by students. This is a vital issue in an era where it is trivial for our students to copy and paste documents directly from the huge array available freely via the Internet without engaging the content we want them to understand.let's eat


    Writing tasks that require students to analyse and understand the information they have downloaded encourage critical thinking and effective use of Information Technology as an integral part of The Information Process. Writing and research tasks that can be completed using copy and paste do not encourage our students to engage in important higher order cognitive skills.

    Integral to successful information literacy are the 6 steps in the Information Process, as outlined in our Student Handbook. These are:

    The Information Process

    Jumping from Locating to Presenting within this process is an easy option for students. It is easy because it requires little or no higher-order thinking skills. This is a shame, as Selecting, Analysing and Organising are some of the most valuable skills students can acquire on the road to becoming successful life-long learners. Further to this, these higher order skills should be integral to the task, and correspond to the bulk of the 49 common curriculum elements identified on page 3 of the Student Handbook.

    A relative new-comer into the field of research is the World Wide Web. Never before have our students had such a rich array of information in which to browse and select. Never before has it been so difficult for teachers to be sufficiently well versed in their subject areas so as to recognise student plagiarism.

    The veracity and reliability of much of the information available on the world wide web is also questionnable - any fool can publish their opinions on the Internet. Does the fact that they are on a webpage make them any more credible?

    So what can we do?

    If we take a look at the questions we are asking, examine what we are asking our students to do, we may be able see other ways of creating extended writing tasks.

    Given the right assignment, a student can download, wordprocess and print a 1,000 word assignment on almost any topic in about 4 minutes. To minimise the suitablilty of copy and paste, there are many strategies that you can use to change the nature of the question.

    1. Change the audience
      - explain to a novice rather than someone well versed in the subject, explain it to a mate, a disabled person, someone who has English as a second (or third) language

    2. Personalise the question
      - explain what you would do if ..., how would you react?

    3. Vary the format
      - try a brochure, advertisement, poster, interview suitable for radio, timeline, powerpoint presentation using point notes on palm cards, table of comparisons and contrasts.

    4. Include local content
      - what would be the effect on your own town/suburb/country/family, how would this differ if it happened locally?

    5. Change the level of student personal involvement
      - employ Bloom's Taxonomy, or De Bono's Thinking Hats to explore the topic from a different perspective

    6. Bibliography
      - annotate references found, use a number of different sources, evaluate relevance and veracity of information found

    7. Include the process not just the product in your assessment
      - concept map of main ideas and their relation to each other, make this count int he marking scheme, rough notes and drafts as well - reinforce the process, reward the steps taken towards the product

    8. Make effective searching part of the learning outcome
      - evaluate a collection of resources, find the four best sites for a topic and give reasons why ther are the best, compare and contrast opinions expressed from various sources.

    9. Concentrate on the Learning Outcomes implicit in the task FIRST
      - consider the content after you have identified what skills you are wanting to foster

    Some examples

    Some Homework

    Consider re-writing an assignment within your subject area. Arrange a planning time with Maureen and/or Peter to consider ways you can implement the assignment effectively. There are allocated times within Terrace's Mastering Learning Technology programme in which you can cooperatively plan - sign up and give it a go - the only thing you have to lose is dodgy student writing (and that's not so much a loss as a gain for all concerned)


    Jill Johnson and Karen Visser
    Computers, Research & Students : A Survival Kit
    Australian School Library Association ACT


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