A recently completed research project conducted by researchers from McGill University in Canada, Warwick University in the United Kingdom, and University of Virginia in the United States, involved a series of studies on the extended essay, a critical component of the International Baccalaureate's Diploma Programme (DP) for students age 16-19. The overall aim was to explore learning outcomes attributable to the DP extended essay in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other aspects that might prepare students for university studies.
The DP, designed as an academically challenging and balanced program to prepare students for success at university and life beyond,requires that all enrolled students complete independent, in-depth research on a topic relating to one of the six DP areas of study. This is the extended essay.
The latest study, "Exploring the learning outcomes of the IB extended essay in preparing students for university studies in Canada", involved two phases. First, the study sought to understand which variables best differentiated IB from non-IB undergraduate students in terms of their inquiry's self-efficacy, views on the nature of science, inquiry values, epistemic beliefs and approaches to learning. This study found that former IB students indicated higher ratings of aspects of inquiry learning that represent self-regulation in the inquiry process and that, on average, IB students were less likely to view learning as primarily memorization of information. Also, this study aimed to further explore the learning benefits of completing the EE. Analysis of the results of student responses to the questions about what they learned from participating in the EE revealed a number of academic learning outcomes, including enhanced organization, reading, writing and reasoning skills.
The second study, "Student perceptions of the value of the International Baccalaureate extended essay in preparing for university studies", conducted by a researcher from the University of Warwick, found that students who had taken part in the EE were generally very positive about their experience. One student noted “this was probably the only time in school when I decided for myself what I wanted to learn about”. The study suggests that most of the aims of the EE had been met and that the EE taught students a lot, especially in terms of being critical and independent thinkers. Former IB students were also more positive about their pre-university education in general than former A-level students. Several students did note, however, that they had few opportunities to use their research skills in university.
The final study, "Exploring the benefits of the International Baccalaureate extended essay for university studies at the University of Virginia (UVA)", aimed to better understand the research experience of former IB students and describe student perceptions of the value of the extended essay. Former IB students and a comparison sample of former Advanced Placement (AP) students were selected for participation in the study. When compared with former AP students, IB students were significantly more likely to indicate that they: felt prepared for college-level coursework involving research; had executed a research project at UVA; were proud of their research; intended to conduct future research; and found their research skills to be important to future success.
Across all three studies,common themes could be identified:
• Pride and a sense of achievement in completing the EE and a clear feeling that Diploma Programme students had learned a great deal from the experience.
• A view that there were not enough opportunities to engage in research at university.
• Recognition of learning that occurred as a result of selecting and delving into a particular topic.
• Preparing students for conducting various facets of the research process and an increased level of confidence in doing research reports.
• The recognition of the challenges in designing, conducting and reporting research.