My first reaction after reading this National Post article is that the reporter is playing the sensationalism card. My second reaction was frustration. These types of polemics are frustrating because the average reader will not be fully aware of what discovery or inquiry based learning really are. If the reader simply relies upon the content of the article it would appear that Alberta students will be left on their own to not only figure out how to learn but what to learn.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Constructivist models like discovery and inquiry-based learning, if well implemented, will provide a structure for openness which addresses the critics main concern that students need a structure. The best way to understand a structure for openness is to consider Apple products. On the surface they are elegantly simple and easy to use but to achieve the elegance and simplicity the structure and programming underneath are extremely completed. Similarly inquiry-based learning environments require a very well thought out structure that underlies the openness and freedom.
Furthermore inquiry-based learning by its design has built in scaffolding and additional supports that enable the learner to discover, explore and inquire in a supported fashion. So this alarmist notion that students are “left on their own” to learn is just typical reaction from a concerned but uniformed source. The key to the success of inquiry-based learning is the implementation and paradoxically how it is structured.
When I was at ACU we developed on a Gates Foundation funded research initiative called the Mobile Enhanced Inquiry Based Learning (MEIBL) project in which we used mobile technology as the tool to provide the scaffolding that is necessary for inquiry based learning in introductory undergraduate chemistry and biology classes. Videos of lab lectures, procedures, access to databases of information and much more were available to students on their mobile devices which provided a scaffold and helped them gain experience with scientific discovery process. Because of the scaffolding enabled by the mobile devices the instructor had more time to work with students in a mentorship role which enabled the students to go much deeper into their studies and explore subjects in ways they could not do in a traditional drill and grill classroom. The students “did science” rather than just “learn about science” and when combined with the additional time the instructor had to mentor the leaner their success and grades revealed that this approached worked as well and often better then traditional classes.
Bottom line — if inquiry based learning is done right it is great. However, if it isn’t then the critics are may be right. Time will tell how well it is implemented in Alberta.
In his talk Assessing Digital Innovations in Education at the Apple Leadership Institute in Vancouver BC this past week, Dr. Michael Fullan challenged the room full of Teachers, Technology Directors, Principal, Superintendents, and other educational leaders to start making some significant changes to our education system because “Kids Can’t Wait.”
I have been working as a change agent in education for the past two decades so his talk was reassuring and inspiring. Reassuring in the sense that those of use who have been working toward improving education need to keep on working because we are finally starting to see some progress. Inspiring in the sense that many younger leaders are picking up the challenge and are motivated to keep on pressing toward change.
While these aspects of his talk were excellent the most impactful part of his talk was the reminder that there is a tendency toward paralysis by analysis and we (academics and educators) do a really good job of generating huge reports which become shelfware.
Fullan challenged the audience with the following statement [paraphrased]:
If you can’t say it in 3 pages you don’t know what you are talking about. If you write more than 3 pages people won’t read it anyway…