Expertise and guidance

I still have a need to understand expertise, mine and others’. This time I will use a Finnish Dr dissertation of Minna Lakkala: How to design educational settings to promote collaborative inquiry: Pedagogical infrastructures for technologyenhanced progressive inquiry. It is published in  the University of Helsinki.

The study begins: Educational practices should pay special attention to improving the skills necessary for collaboration and knowledge work, in order to address current societal changes. Strategies of scientific, question-driven inquiry are stated to be important cultural practices that should be educated and promoted. – Easy to agree with these thoughts.

The study did not clearly follow any learning-theoretical paradigm, but it can be characterized as falling between socio-cognitive and socio-cultural approaches to learning: Bereiter and Scardamalia in Toronto, Canada. The model of Progressive Inquiry is developed by Kai Hakkarainen and his colleagues, Lakkala is one of them.

Lakkala’s study focused on investigating multiple efforts to implement a research-based pedagogical model of Progressive Inquiry and related Web-based tools, to develop guidelines for educators in promoting students’ collaborative inquiry practices with technology. The Progressive Inquiry model explicates epistemic activities that are generally important in academic and scientific inquiry; i.e., in collaborative activity that aims at improved solving of ill-structured problems, utilization of knowledge sources, and explication and elaboration of ideas, explanations and theories.

The results indicated that appropriate teacher support for students’ collaborative inquiry efforts appears to include interplay between spontaneity and structure. Consideration should be given to content mastery, critical working strategies or essential knowledge practices that the inquiry approach is intended to promote. In particular, those elements in students’ activities should be structured and directed, which are central to the aim of Progressive Inquiry, but which the students do not recognize or demonstrate spontaneously without explicit modeling or promotion, and which are usually not taken into account in existing pedagogical methods or educational conventions. Such elements are, among others:

  • productive co-construction activities;
  • sustained engagement in improving produced ideas and explanations;
  • critical reflection of the adopted inquiry practices, and
  • sophisticated use of modern technology for knowledge work.

The developed Pedagogical Infrastructure Framework enabled recognizing and examining some central features and their interplay in the designs of examined inquiry units. The framework helped to recognize and critically evaluate the invisible learning-cultural conventions in various educational settings and could mediate discussions about how to overcome or change them.

The concept engagement was used to delineate the quality of students’ inquiry activity in order to evaluate the success of the pedagogical intervention: a central aim was that students demonstrate sustained engagement in an active and deepening process of improving ideas and explanations as well as in critical reflection of inquiry practices.

Most of the explicit process guidance in the tutors’ postings concentrated on rather practical issues, such as using information sources or organizing the threads in the discourse forums. The guidance did not draw the students’ attention to higher-order metacognitive inquiry strategies, the promotion of which is one principal idea in the Progressive Inquiry model and should be a central focus in the tutors’ scaffolding efforts.

The analysis of social aspects of the inquiry designs revealed that the threaded discourse areas in the web-based system were experienced as a valuable new possibility to promote collective working practices, and teachers reported how eagerly the students participated in the technology-mediated interaction by reading and commenting on each other’s ideas. The most difficult objective appears to have been to induce the students to enter into “serious” efforts for advancing collective understanding and elaborating common knowledge objects, instead of just discussing or sharing ideas.

Educational settings should include elements that explicitly advance students’ metalevel awareness and understanding of inquiry strategies, which may support their self-regulative action. The analyzed features of the course designs, categorized according to the components of the Pedagogical Infrastructure Framework, were the following:

  • Technical component: Access to technology and technical guidance, and Diversity of tools provided;
  • Social component: Structuring of collaboration, Sharing of the inquiry process, Individual or collective nature of the inquiry outcomes, and Integration of multiple social spaces;
  • Epistemological component: The emphasis on question-driven inquiry, Main source of acquired information, and Concrete knowledge object as an outcome
  • Cognitive component: Modeling of inquiry strategies, Human guidance provided, Scaffolding embedded in tools, and Promotion of meta-reflection.

The aim is to support epistemologically high-level and deepening inquiry activity in which students direct their efforts in elaborating questions, explanations and knowledge products, that the tasks and their achievement criteria are accordingly defined. A requirement for a concrete product (a report, a model or a presentation) as a goal and outcome of the inquiry process appeared to increase and focus students’ inquiry efforts. If there was an explicit assignment to produce a research report, the students were very engaged and productive in writing their contributions. It is important to set explicit high-level epistemological criteria for the quality of the outcome (systematic summing up of inquiry results with theory-based arguments), otherwise the external form of the end product easily starts to dominate as the object of the work, not the improvement of ideas or solving of knowledge problems.

Most students do not spontaneously take responsibility of the advancement of other students’ or the whole community’s inquiry. This is quite understandable because conventional learning culture in schools and universities is strongly shaped by individual accountability and grading. So they hardly ever contributed to the work of others or other teams, if it was not explicitly demanded or built into the task criteria. Thus in progressive inquiry, the common goals of the process across individual students and groups should be explicitly defined, and the practical ways of contributing to the common outcomes should be modeled and explicated; for instance, by directing students to together produce a common summary.

It still is an apparent difficulty to have students openly share the entire process-progression (including original ideas, drafts and intermediate knowledge products) for commenting and co-construction through a Web-based learning environment.

The Progressive Inquiry model aims at simulating expert-like and authentic cultural practices of collaborative inquiry and knowledge creation. One problem is, that students do not necessarily benefit from the guidance style where the teacher demonstrates too advanced expert behavior. In progressive inquiry, it apparently is not enough that the tutor models the high-level, expert-like inquiry practices by demonstrating them in his or her own on-line performance; there should be other ways to scaffold students themselves to recognize and perform intended high-level inquiry practices and cognitively demanding strategies. Teachers and tutors should not do the critical cognitive tasks on behalf of the student.

One finding of the studies is that a typical feature of progressive inquiry practices appears to be that the engagement in open-ended inquiry is experienced as challenging, particularly, at the beginning. Students complained that the level of guidance was insufficient. Teachers were surprised about the feedback because they thought that they had provided clear models and guidelines for the process. These results may relate to the parallel increase in the cognitive challenge of the inquiry task together with the increased authenticity that to give special attention to encouraging students to struggle at the beginning of the process; by helping them realize that the phases of confusion and chaos are elementary characteristics of open-ended inquiry; assuring that it is acceptable and, indeed, probable that inquiry efforts do not always succeed.

Teachers should pay more attention to designing the educational units so that the tasks and other arrangements, especially, stimulate students’ engagement in epistemologically highlevel, deepening inquiry and true collaboration around shared knowledge objects and products. Students’ own metalevel awareness of or intentional efforts for effective collaboration and appropriate inquiry strategies may be more deliberately and explicitly promoted through modeling and self-reflection activities. These conclusions led to define the cognitive or metacognitive support for students’ inquiry engagement as a separate pedagogical design component that requires special attention from the teacher, in addition to technical, social and epistemological components.

Lakkala’s study ended, Heli Nurmi begins to analyse her experiences. I can’t help thinking about our CritLit2010 course which had same ideology than progressive inquiry, and voluntary adult students, but same difficulties as well. Much talking and less serious problematizing, was it so? I remember some comments from Alan and Maria that helped me. I remember deep misunderstandings with Stephen and I am still wondering why. We are experts both but cannot follow each other’s thoughts. Sometimes it goes that way: inquiry efforts do not succeed.

Many discourses about open courses deal with same themas. Educause and many analyses about CCK08 learnings have been interesting to read.  A new course PLENK2010 with these principles will begin next week – we already know mistakes that will happen during next weeks 🙂 .

5 thoughts on “Expertise and guidance

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  2. Hi Stephen, fine to offer something useful 🙂

    I was wondering how similar the results concerning Finnish schools and universities were compared to the open global CritLit2010. Do we bring the culture with us so strongly that it is almost impossible to create something new. That is the question I want to clarify or study in the PLENK. How to be free, it is my question. Time will tell…

  3. Hi Heli,
    What a wonderful post! I am impressed with this model of inquiry. Progressive Inquiry model aims at simulating expert-like and authentic cultural practices of collaborative inquiry and knowledge creation. That sounds like an ideal way of exploring and learning in a collaborative manner. As you commented: Much talking and less serious problematizing, was it so? I share many of your views in that we still have a lot of “misunderstandings” when interacting and sharing online. Why? How would culture impact on collaborative inquiry? How to be free? As you said….
    Looking forward to learning and researching in PLENK.
    Thanks.
    John

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