The purpose of the Investigation phase of Challenge Based learning is twofold – to guide the learning journey and to set the foundation for the solution prototype. A productive trip through the Investigation phase results in the accomplishment of the designated learning objectives, and a deep understanding of the chosen domain creating a solid foundation to suggest a possible solution. When asked about the “why” of their solution, groups need to be able to confidently point to a clear synthesis of the research gathered during the Investigation phase.

A common mistake is treating the guiding questions, activities, and resources as a disconnected list of items to simply be completed. In this scenario, the learners work through the list of guiding questions but do not take the time to connect all of the dots into a comprehensive understanding of the domain they are studying. The learners may be able to recite facts and individual results but do not have a broad and deep enough knowledge of the field to develop defendable solutions.

The key to a successful move from Investigation to the Act phase is the development of a robust research synthesis. The Investigation synthesis is a written discussion that threads together all of the individual research findings from answering the guiding questions, draws conclusions, demonstrates a depth of knowledge and makes a case for the proposed solutions.

The Investigation synthesis:

  1. accurately reports the results from answering the guiding questions
  2. compares and contrasts the findings and identifies patterns.
  3. draws an accurate conclusion that will form the foundation for the recommended solution.

Writing a useful Investigation synthesis is an essential skill that extends to all areas of research and writing. Learning to write a quality Investigation synthesis takes practice and learners should have frequent opportunities to move from research to a concise summary. Short nano-challenges focusing specifically on the Investigation phase and stopping at the creation and defense of a solution concept is an efficient way to build synthesis skills. Working on synthesis skills also provide a prime opportunity to work across the curriculum as the research synthesis plays a crucial role in other content areas.

Steps for creating an effective Investigation synthesis:

  1. The synthesis will only be as good as the research. Make sure that you have started with a broad set of guiding questions that explore the domain from multiple perspectives.
  2. Check to see that the groups of questions have been honestly and thoroughly answered through the guided activities and resources. Have an outside expert or at least someone not directly involved in your Investigation validates the research to make sure that your team has not missed important information (consciously or unconsciously). Left in isolation learners look for the answers they want to hear and avoid those that run in the face of preconceived ideas. Outside experts and “beginner’s eyes” tend to see these gaps and can help to ensure the group has done thorough research.
  3. Write short summaries of the findings in each cluster of guiding questions.
  4. Read through the summaries and look for patterns and connections. Look for stories that emerge from the research. Once again asking learners outside of your group to read the summaries and share the patterns they see can be helpful to avoid confirmation bias, or the tendency to see only what supports preconceived or emerging theories.
  5. Draw conclusions that are supported by the patterns and stories emerging from the summaries.
  6. Develop the final document starting with an overview of the Investigation process, moving to the summary statements from the clusters of guiding questions, summarizing the overall themes and then recommending solution concepts based on the final results.
  7. Complete one more round of validation by outside experts or other groups to see if they can confirm your path from challenge to solution concept.

Helping learners develop the skills necessary for creating quality Investigation syntheses is time well spent. The better the learners are at researching and synthesizing findings the stronger their solutions will be.