Exploring the synergies of active learning in a community of inquiry

Topic 4 has been a challenging mountain to climb. In writing this blog, I was to consider the perspective of the educator in designing for learning. The perspectives of learners and teachers are different. And being on the other side as a learner during the ONL211 journey has shed light on what it is like as a student. Looking through the problem-based learning lens has forced me to tackle the questions that have arisen rather than hide in the shadows of a lecture-based format.

Wading through the material required discipline and time. At times, it seemed as if all that I was reading was entering a black hole. I wondered as I read and read some more, if it would all come together in an epiphany….

Lipman argued that education is inquiry; “The community of inquiry is perhaps the most promising methodology for the encouragement of that fusion of critical and creative cognitive processing known as higher-order thinking” (Lipman, 1991, p. 204)

The concept of the community of inquiry helped to humanise the pedagogical concepts for me. Perhaps best illustrated in the photograph below, taken at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

An ecosystem where the learner is nurtured

One big takeaway from Topic 4 is the importance of mapping out a community of inquiry within the design of online and blended learning to ensure student success. Fostering cognitive, social and teaching presence are equally important in online and blended learning.

As a teacher, I can create the conditions for critical thinking, rational judgments, and understanding through the engagement of a community of inquiry. Here, “students listen to one another with respect, build on one another’s ideas, challenge one another to supply reasons for otherwise unsupported opinions, assist each other in drawing inferences from what has been said, and seek to identify one another’s assumptions”. (Lipman, 2003, p. 20).

The Practical Inquiry Model created by Garrison et al (figure 2) depicts the phases that make up cognitive presence, defined as the ability to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection. The four phases comprise: (1) a triggering event, where a problem is identified for further inquiry; (2) exploration, where an individual explores the issue; (3) integration, where learners concept meaning from ideas formed in the exploration phase; and (4) resolution, where students can apply the new skills and knowledge learned from the previous phases into real-world application(s) (Garrison et al., 2000).

It is no surprise then that reflection is a key aspect of the community of inquiry framework as it allows the learner to build upon the different elements akin to the construction of a building.

The Thinker by Rodin

Social presence is made up of 1. emotional / affective expression where learners share their values, 2. open communication where learners develop mutual awareness and recognition and 3. group cohesion. Teaching presence incorporates instructional design and organization, managing the environment and facilitating learning experiences.

Online learning has come of age in the last year. Neuroscience shows us that active learning results in the activation of multiple brain areas leading eventually to the embedding of neural connections which in turn, makes memories more deeply embedded and more easily retrievable. We can exploit the strengths of recent technologies and of the science of learning to meet students’ educational needs. 

Thinking of how to fuse the two streams of critical and creative cognitive processing, it seemed like a natural progression to consider active learning. As I pondered, the strands appeared to come together to incorporate active learning environments within a community of inquiry framework to supercharge the learning experience.

Active learning involves a multisensory approach to learning where sensory, cognitive, emotional and social processes are engaged thereby increasing students’ learning potential. Speaking, writing, reading, and listening are part of a series of interconnected brain processes, hence incorporating these into the lesson plan means that students learn and retain more information. Group work has been shown to stimulate critical thinking through activating social, emotional, auditory and motor networks. Helping students understand how historical and cultural context shapes the theories and paradigms of thought that emerge in a given field is part of this process of active learning as is the incorporation of new knowledge with personal experiences and older knowledge.

Kosslyn reviews five principles that contribute to successful learning-deep processing, chunking, building associations, dual coding and deliberate practice, to provide better online education. He advocates for the “learning sandwich,” which features a brief lecture-based explanation of an idea, followed by an active learning exercise, and then a class-wide debrief on the learning exercise.

The question that arises after all this is, how do I incorporate what I have learnt into my teaching ? That’s a blog for another day……

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