Why Collaborative Inquiry?

Puzzled

In a facilitator’s guide for Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, Jenni Donohoo presents the formation of professional learning communities as a means of addressing “adaptive challenges,” or those “for which the necessary knowledge to solve the problem do not yet exist” (Vander Ark, 2006 p 10). Many aspects of professional development seeks to approach these types of adaptive challenges, as many aspects of teaching and learning presently find themselves in flux.

With increasing classroom needs, revolutionary changes in technology and information literacies, in an evolving culture dealing with widespread anxiety and mental health concerns, classroom teachers and extended school communities confront diverse language language needs and an increased awareness around gender and sexual identity, among other unique challenges. In British Columbia, public schools face the additional challenge of an ongoing and tempestuous negotiation between different stakeholders over curricular reform, teacher-contracts, and the role of education in society.

The convergence of these myriad adaptive challenges – “for which the necessary knowledge [does] not yet exist.” – seem an appropriate place to engage a process of collaborative inquiry which allows participants to “adopt new values and beliefs.”

In such times, Levin notes that “the challenge of change is compounded by pressure from others to remain the same” (Levin, 2008 p 81), but that “change in schools come from ‘thoughtful application of effective practices in particular contexts” (p 81).

“When members of professional learning communities (PLCs) engage together in investigating challenges of practice, their understanding of these challenges grows deeper and is more unified, practice grows more sophisticated and powerful, and the group develops a tighter sense of camaraderie and common purpose.”

This type of cultural cultivation allows teams to “construct common understanding, share knowledge and experience, and develop common goals.” Developing a culture of inquiry enables sustainable change and the ability of an organization to respond to the evolving needs of a community:

“High quality professional learning includes learning communities that apply a cycle of continuous improvement to engage in inquiry, action research data analysis, planning, implementation, reflection and evaluation.”

But merely putting such a model into place is not enough to ensure such a culture will take hold. In fact, such cases are shown to be rare; where they are shown to be successful it is because of meaningful learning activities are undertaken to drive the process forward.

Donohoo presents a four stage process:

  1. Framing the Problem
  2. Collecting Evidence
  3. Analyzing Evidence
  4. Documenting, Sharing, Celebrating

Teams begin by determining a meaningful focus, and developing an inquiry that will allow them to collect evidence in their classroom, personal practice, or collaboration with a colleague. Once evidence has been collected, it is brought back to the team for analysis before being shared and documented for the wider PLC, and used to consider further inquiries. These stages are “the same stages used in action research.” However:

“The difference between the two approaches is that collaborative inquiry is conducted by a group of educators interested in addressing a school, department, or common classroom issue driven by student learning needs.”

In concluding the opening chapter of a lengthier guide for facilitators, Donohoo shares three primary considerations in implementing a collaborative inquiry model: Timing, Forming a Team, and Fostering Academic Discourse.

“The best time to introduce a collaborative inquiry is when the process of school improvement planning takes place,” Donohoo advises, adding that:

“By introducing collaborative inquiry as a strategy for school improvement, it will help team members understand how it relates to the work that is already happening in schools.”

In forming inquiry teams, Donohoo cites Katz et al. (2009) and suggests formal leaders “distribute leadership, identifying those teacher leaders who are in the position to lead in a focus area because of their expertise” (p 75).

However, it is the consideration toward fostering academic discourse which provides the greatest challenge – and in turn the greatest opportunity – for schools engaging in collaborative inquiry, highlighting MacDonald’s observation that

“teachers must be willing to expose their struggles and failures with their colleagues must be willing to tell the truth, or teams will go through the motions of collaborative inquiry but never see results” (2011 p 45).

Developing a rich dialogue that allows participants to reflect on and evaluate their own practices in the context of communal inquiry creates the opportunity for teams “to collaboratively generate knowledge while investigating problems of practice.” In closing, Donohoo refers to both Senge (1990) and Vander Ark (2006):

“Senge (1990) used the term ‘learning organizations’ to describe organizations that transformed themselves to meet adaptive challenges and become knowledge-generating versus merely knowledge-using organizations. Vander Ark (2006) noted that meeting an adapting challenge required ‘creating the knowledge and tools to solve the problem in the act of working on it” (p 10).

Such a model of inquiry is congruent with a constructive view of professional development described a few posts back:

“This act of development is a constructive act, one which suits the principles of democracy that we are all – regardless of subject speciality – charged with teaching in our classrooms, and a process we are obligated to engage in as citizens in a democracy, as well as teachers, and professionals. And if we are to provide this type of learning in our classrooms, we should be engaged – and are compelled to be engaged, in the language of our own members’ guide and professional expectations –  in a similarly constructive development of our own practice and profession.”

Not everyone will buy into the process deeply, maybe even especially at first. And it is a colleague’s prerogative to engage in professional development in this fashion. However, if small groups or pairs of colleagues are supported and given time and opportunity to experiment and explore their practice – and document and build through an ongoing praxis of inquiry – these relationships being fostered across a staff could enact a profound shift in school culture.

Live from #CUEBC

On Friday I’ll be presenting at the CUEBC Conference in West Vancouver, sharing a little of the gospel of distributed web radio stations DS106Radio and 105 the Hive, meaning I am now putting together slides, collecting images, links and the like. Developing a script, of sorts.

Outlining a “talk,” y’know? And when it comes to sharing a message or a piece of communication, the balancing of brevity, clarity and force demands preparation.

But I find myself torn, putting the presentation together. Because I don’t want the message to be communicated by the things I will say or share, on Friday.

I want the thing communicated by a session on radio to be something that does not lend itself to a formal, explicit, presentation. Rather, I feel compelled to share the magic of distributed web – live! – radio that is something best shared in if it is to be communicated.Lunchtime Jam w/ the Gals

Because beyond the capability to distribute pre-recorded and stored audio materials to a public audience, what has kept these radio communities alive and in touch almost four years later is the illustrious buzz of live. Whether as a listener or broadcaster, the power of the radio stems from partaking in a live happening that connects people across vast distances.

To share the intimacy of sound – the hum and refraction of this room, right here – with listeners throughout the company of radio, to live and breathe in people’s headphones or car speakers, office spaces or classrooms, this is the magic of radio, and an inspiring example of the potential for learning on the web. It is the age-old magic that has captivated us since ham radio, and tin can telephones, and can imbue out digital spaces with that often lamented element they may lack: a human connection.

This is the piece I’d like people to come away with on Friday: a glimpse of that magical connection made possible with a seamless entryway. So I’m trying to conceive of a ‘presentation’ that doesn’t rely too much on a one-directional conversation.

I want us to play around with the wonders of the radio and produce an artifact of our time together on Friday.

I want us to bring our voices together, take them live onto the air, and let the magic of live do the talking.

As it is the the annual conference of Computer Using Educators of BC, #CUEBC seems the perfect place to engage such an opportunity. Along with Will Richardson providing the keynote, there are many colleagues from across British Columbia who will be descending on West Van to discuss themes in technology education that could inspire a wealth of dialogue worth sharing with an audience beyond.

In Transit in Cuba

All we need to do is point our microphones at the conversation.

Fortunately, the structure of the conference even allows for such an ambitious enterprise, inviting presenters to take on two hour sessions, one of which I’ve been given Friday afternoon to introduce the whats and the hows of web radio, and then to dive in with the participants who attend. What we make of the conversations surrounding the day and session itself will emerge through the course of our time together, and be presented live online before the end of the day.

So we’ll need to hit the ground running, making me slightly anxious about the amount of content I should share at the outset of the ‘presentation’ that is quickly becoming a workshop.

Something I’ve done for past presentations – especially online, as I’m cognizant of the fact that folks might be clicking around while I’m talking – is to supplement these talks with footnotes and links that lead to digital artifacts and deeper explanations of the things I’m mentioning. And I’ll do something similar here, collecting the pertinent details in a Google Doc or blog post that can act as an annotation of sorts.

But as much as the session will be a crash course in broadcasting on ds106radio or 105 the Hive, I am also striving to provide an experience in producing a radio happening, and want to jump into the creation piece.

So I want to start the conversation with you, whether you’ll make it to the session, be taking in another in West Van at the same time, or be spending Friday afternoon somewhere else entirely. Without knowing exactly where our radio show will take us, I’ll begin by asking you the same questions I plan to start with in a few days.

We’ll be taking your offerings into consideration during our own brainstorming, and even asking for your audio samples if you’ve got them to give!

Help contribute to something that could be quite special if enough people get behind it. Take a few minutes to complete the following form, so send an audio file along to bryan at bryanjack.ca if you’d like to share a response or shout out to be shared during our broadcast.