Utilising ICTs to Enhance Inquiry


I’ve recently read an article by Elizabeth Buckner and Paul Kim documenting their research on the implications of Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning using the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment (SMILE).  While this particular study examined the influence of SMILE on inquiry-based learning in developing countries, it raised several factors for consideration by any school wanting to integrate ICTs in an inquiry-based learning environment.  

The Integration of ICTs and Pedagogy

Schools around the world are increasingly adopting technology into their classroom environments and boasting one-to-one or mobile device programs.  While these initiatives are essential in twenty-first century learning environments, what we are yet to hear about is exactly how effective ICTs are in enhancing the learning in a classroom.   Learning using ICTs incorporates more than putting these devices in a classroom or the hands of our students, it must involve an integration between pedagogy and technology by supporting the incorporation of meaningful educational content and contextualized pedagogy (Buckner & Kim, 2014, p.100).  This may include for example, considering what effect placing a mobile device in the hands of every student in a classroom will have on their ability to collaborate and problem-solve.  There is argument here that, without appropriate pedagogy, this would actually decrease the way dimensions mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities, particularly the ICT Capability, are met by students in their learning.  

While effectively, mobile devices broaden the learning environments and opportunities students are exposed to, as educators, we are focusing too much on the type of technology we provide, instead of the pedagogical techniques designed to utilise this technology appropriately.  

Student and Teacher Training in ICTs

It may seem obvious that educators must have a strong knowledge of the technology and devices they are using with their students. However, Buckner & Kim suggest that often, this is the biggest factor in decreasing the ability of students to learn using ICTs. Educators who feel uncomfortable with the use of ICTs or are scared of losing authority and control when students use ICTs in the classroom, greatly decrease the opportunities of students to question, problem-solve and learn (2014, p.102). This factors supports the notion that schools must begin to provide greater support for staff in their use of ICTs and place greater focus on the skills they need to use their in their teaching and learning – not the programs.  

ICTs and Mobile Devices role in enhancing Inquiry Learning

As educators, we are well aware of the potential of ICTs and mobile devices to increase engagement in the learning of our students, however, we must pay attention to the effect our pedagogical practices has on this.  Simply providing a student with a Mobile Device to type their work instead of write does not automatically increase engagement in learning.  Instead, we must consider how we can change our teaching and learning in relation to ICTs and Mobile Devices to promote, “a pedagogical shift from didactic teacher-centred to participatory student-centred learning” (Looi, Seow, Zhang, So, Chen, & Wong, 2010, p. 156). In their article, Buckner and Kim examine the use of the SMILE model to promote the questioning involved in an inquiry-based learning environment through several different case studies across many countries.  The video below provides an accompanying overview of the SMILE method used in the research of Buckner & Kim.  

Whether or not the SMILE method is adopted in your school, Buckner & Kim lead us to acknowledge the importance as educators, particularly those who adopt inquiry-based learning practices, to consider exactly how we are using and integrating pedagogy AND ICTs to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms.  


Reference List

Buckner, E., & Kim, P. (2014). Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning: The stanford mobile inquiry-based learning environment (SMILE). PROSPECTS, 44(1), 99-118. doi:10.1007/s11125-013-9269-7

Looi, C. K., Seow, P., Zhang, B. H., So, H. J., Chen, W., & Wong, L. H. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: A research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154–169.

Exploring Integrated Units

I have been witness to much discussion of late across various  school sites that I have visited regarding the difficulty of integrating math and science using an inquiry approach.  While this discussion could stem from educators who do not have a clear understanding of multi-disciplinary approaches or inquiry-based learning, it is interesting that this has been a common area of discussion by educators across a variety of contexts.  In the discussions that I have been involved in, there are three main issues I have identified that are often raised by Math and Science educators in particular.  These are:

1. Math and Science lend themselves more to content-driven instruction.

2. Math can not be integrated with any other subject.

3. Both Science and Math need  teacher-lead direction to ensure that learning occurs and this isn’t possible in an inquiry unit.

The video below provides an excellent example of an integrated math/science/english (whether intentional or not) unit on Decomposition using an inquiry process to guide student learning and suggests that it is possible to integrate both math and science using an inquiry approach.

The Decomposition Unit undertaken in the example above demonstrates purposeful integration at its best, as the seamless inter-disciplinary approach is complemented by an inquiry process.  While the learning that takes place in this unit is student-driven, there is great evidence of teacher preparation, direction and guidance throughout the inquiry process. Initially, students become engaged and immersed in the unit through teacher-directed content that introduces them to the concepts being examined.  The students are then prompted to brainstorm as a class the questions they would like to examine in the unit.   Students were also involved in the selection of assessment criteria through defining what they believed the quality of their work would look like under the specific school-identified key areas of: inquiry, knowledge and skills, communication, enhancing and supporting community and work habits.  This process allowed both students and staff to define and have a clear understanding of what quality work would look like.

This introductory/immersion process allowed teachers to engage students in the topic of learning and provide them with the content, knowledge and understanding they needed before the students were handed the reigns and allowed to start their own investigations. I believe the detail and time the teachers of this unit took in preparing their students for learning in this unit, is one of the reasons it was such a success, as every learner was engaged, had a problem to solve and knew the process they would take in the search for answers.

The scientific study regarding the nature of decomposition provides the foundations of this inquiry, however the skills required by the students to measure, gather, document and graph data provide a clear cross-over into math, as does the blogging and reflection process to English. What provides the greatest evidence of purposeful integration in this unit, is that students are not at any stage focussing on a particular discipline,  rather, they are using the inquiry process to build understanding and many of the skills mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities  in a quest to explore and build on their knowledge and skill set.  The involvement of teachers and the wider community was obvious in the unit, however, this involvement acted to guide and complement the learning that happened, rather than direct and control this learning.

This is just one example, of the way in which inquiry and purposefully connected curriculum can enhance not hinder the learning of students regardless of the disciplines being studied.