Personal Inquiry and groupwork: issues for computer-supported inquiry learning

Scanlon, Eileen; Littleton, Karen; Anastopoulou, Stamatina; Sharples, Mike and Ainsworth, Shaaron (2010). Personal Inquiry and groupwork: issues for computer-supported inquiry learning. In: Dimitracopoulou, Angelique; O'Malley, Claire; Suthers, Daniel and Reimann, Peter eds. Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Practices - CSCL2009 Community Events Proceedings. ISLS.



This paper will draw on research work, currently being undertaken as part of the Personal Inquiry (PI) project to explore how evidence-based inquiry learning can be supported and resourced. The PI project aims to understand how personal and mobile technologies can be designed and deployed to make the processes of evidence-based scientific inquiry personally relevant and readily accessible to young people (aged 11-15 years). It also aims to support the continuity of science learning between classrooms and non-formal settings. Informed by a series of inquiry projects with schools, we are developing a toolkit to support inquiry learning across a range of learning contexts. Based on four school-based interventions, our analysis of processes of learning-teaching (including the analysis of ‘breakdowns’ in support and pupils’ understanding) explores the following questions:

• How can effective evidence based inquiry processes be characterised and supported?
• What dilemmas and tensions are encountered when supporting processes of ‘personal’ inquiry through structured activities that involve phases of collaborative group work?
• What resources enable and what constrains support collaborative inquiry processes?

The analyses draw on our experiences of using an inquiry activity guide for structuring and guiding activities, supporting class, group and individual working. They also highlight the challenges which confront educators when attempting to mobilise or build upon young people’s interests for schooled purposes. Making an inquiry authentic and personally relevant is a challenge that has been widely discussed in inquiry-based learning research. We wish to understand whether there are any circumstances for students in which the exploration of personally relevant topics and questions, rather than being engaging, becomes aversive – there being a fine line between a topic being personally interesting and engaging and being ‘too personal’ and thus not readily amenable to group investigation or discussion. Conversely, being very personal might be fruitful– a range of personal viewpoints and differences might stimulate engaging group discussion. This points to the necessity and the difficulty of understanding the students’ points of view regarding the educational tasks in hand. A way to address this challenge is through our ongoing commitment to participatory design processes involving young people instead of working with educators own assumptions regarding what these are or might be.

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