I started out this unit with high hopes. Having heard a lot about inquiry learning, I was keen and excited. Looking back on what I learnt in writing this blog, however, gives me cause to reflect. At the start of this journey, I began with the analogy of maps and exploration. Evidently, this changed. It’s become a journey with an open road and new horizons beyond.
I began by questioning where inquiry learning comes from in Geography, wanting to know how learners learn best and what changes would occur as a result of national curriculum. My essay generated further questions about the pedagogy of Geography and my own practice. Having analysed the theories and models that underpin geographical inquiry, I now have more questions than when I started.
What did I learn?
The most significant thing that I have learnt in doing these three modules is an appreciation for the emotional or affective domain. Nottingham (2009) provides the analogy of the “learning pit” which was very helpful for my journey. In this model, learners experience different emotions as they approach learning. I started started off nervous and excited but as I entered into the learning, this changed. For one thing, I certainly got mad with some of the digital literacies that I needed to learn! Blogs are a whole new world for me and I had to contend with two of these beasts this semester. Having completed this stage of the blog, I’m feeling pretty happy which is where Nottingham (2009) predicts learners end up.
This model is similar to Carol Kuhlthau’s (2004) model of the Information Search Process. I have mentioned this multiple times throughout my blog, so will not repeat the explanation here. Suffice to say that it covers the same territory as James Nottingham’s (2009) learning pit. In addition, Kuhlthau (2004) examines the physical and cognitive domains and I found this to be a true estimation of the process that I encountered. So too, in my experience of teaching my unit on Sustainable Communities, students also encountered all of these domains, making progress through all of these.
A nice connection was made for me when examining Bloom’s revised taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Krathwohl, 2002). I realised that teaching is a linear process in many ways (my unit plan for instance has a list of the weeks and lessons from start to finish and runs from the top of the page to the bottom). The problem I came across when I tried to fit Bloom’s taxonomy with my learning plan became that I had to invert the pyramid into a pit. if I was to overlay the following picture onto my unit plan now, this is not a bad estimate of the deeper knowledge created in learning. I thought this made a good connection to Nottingham’s (2009) model as well as the theoretical explanation provided by Kuhlthau (2004). In my inverted pyramid, I began digging with my students as we delved into topics, removing layers of misunderstanding, analysing the soil before getting to the evaluating and creating levels beneath.
One of my frustrations in this process has been a lack of scaffolding. I felt that I became that annoying student in class who says ‘I don’t get it.’ I can now empathise because I couldn’t ‘see the forest for the trees.’ While the requirements for each post were spelled out in great detail, I found it difficult to learn the new digital literacies and missed the interaction of being in a physical classroom. Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari (2012) outline that a team approach is needed for students to make the most of their learning. This team approach appropriately extends the model of social-constructivist frameworks as developed by thinkers such as Bruner (1961), Dewey (1916), Piaget (1950), and Vygotsky (1978). In such a team, there would include such people as industry representatives, librarians, teachers and other specialists.
In this process, it’s felt a little lonely to be honest, sitting at a laptop tapping away at a virtual world. There hasn’t been any real connection to a team of teachers who could help in this regard. No disrespect is meant to my lecturer. She works tirelessly and would respond to emails at all hours, I’m certain there are reasons that the class remained external. Some tutorials on the digital literacies required would have been super helpful, which highlights the critique of Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006).
I agree to an extent with the critique made by Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) criticise the guided inquiry approach by arguing that as learners, we need an enormous amount of guidance in our journey. Unguided discovery learning is not helpful to maximising learning. Hmelo-Silver, Duncan and Chinn (2007) provide a helpful response by showing the distinction between unguided discovery learning and inquiry learning. Hmelo-Silver, Duncan and Chinn (2007) argue that inquiry learning is not unguided. Scaffolding is key in such inquiry learning projects. Interesting then. Universities are able to produce fantastic research with such insight into the learning process. Yet the learning and teaching environment does not always follow these guidelines. Interesting. Why is this so?
While efforts were made to create online spaces for learning and increasing this interaction, as a learner, I feel that the prerogative lies on the teaching team to provide such a physical space. Perhaps I’m a “technophobe” and need to adapt to this new digital online environment. Or perhaps, there is reason to believe that real classrooms provide an excellent space for learning to occur. Or is it instead, that this is the way that I’ve learnt in the past and I just need to adapt? This was not the focus of my blog I understand, but it is probably more relevant to discuss given the modality of the learning that I encountered.
Like many things then, it is probably a matter of tension. I don’t think that learning should be completely teacher centred, nor should it centre on the student. Rather a middle ground approach is useful in teaching and learning processes. Lupton’s (2013, p. 11) “inquiry learning continuum” is helpful to this discussion therefore. If learners learn best by co-constructing meaning and knowledge from their experiences, it makes sense that this should also continue in the classroom. Perhaps then, rather than the continuum pointing outwards in Figure 2, the arrows in the following diagram should probably turn inwards to indicate the guided approach.
What has challenged my pedagogy?
The most challenging thing for me apart from the learning environment and digital literacies would be the model of GeST windows (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). This allowed me the opportunity to critique my own practice and that of the unit I taught. I realised that the vast majority of my teaching and learning fits squarely within the generic window. In fact, I’m quite accomplished at this. On occasion, I venture into the situated and transformative windows with my students and can recall some incidents in my teaching career where this has happened. Mostly though, my teaching is preparing students for university and a neo-liberal view of the economy. In critiquing the geography syllabus, I realised the opportunity it afforded to enter beyond the generic.
Perhaps I’ve become too critical of myself also and students are afforded the opportunity to critically examine their worlds. After the QCS this year, my class and I were reflecting on the unit of Sustainable communities and revising for our upcoming exam. In our reflections, I asked my students what helped them prepare best for the QCS test. One student surprised me by saying:
“I’ve learnt most of my opinions about how the world operates through taking Geography.”
Having engaged this particular student extensively in discussion over the course of Geography, I hope that’s a good outcome. Like Barnett (2012) argues, the more important feature of schooling has to be an impartation of values. Like Lupton and Bruce’s (2010) GeST windows, emphasising values allows students the chance to move beyond “disciplinary initiation” towards an ontology of “human beings as such” (Barnett, 2012, p. 72). This means that the values and ideals that students form are far more important than many of the generic skills I competently impart. I wonder then, what is the best way to engage students. If this student learned “most of his opinions about the world through geography,” what values come to the surface?
My epiphany this afternoon was that if teaching is more cyclical than linear, inquiry learning estimates a fractal. As we learn, we are constantly gathering new information, and this generates questions for new learning. With apologies to Daniel Callison’s (2006) model, I propose a fractal as a backdrop to his original model to indicate the tangents that we encounter in our learning cycle as follows.
After all, the world is just awesome!
Discovery Channel. (2008). The world is just awesome [Video file]. Retrieved from Youtube.
Talking of fractals, an awesome world to discover and further questions…. I have a few further questions:
- What is the best way of negotiating the guided approach? Is it student or teacher led? Is this the wrong question?
- How can I approach my pedagogy in a way that promotes transformational literacies in student learning?
- What is the best question to ask in geographical inquiry?
- How do online spaces change the way that students learn? Is this the best approach for inquiry learning?
- How will geographers need to adapt to these new digital literacies?
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