Topic outline

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    Communities of Inquiry

    Some introductory thoughts: a video

    Online%20Education%20Community%20of%20Inquiry%20Remix.mp4

    Here we outline collaborative arrangements for establishing and operating Communities of Inquiry as an aid to either 
    • absorb new knowledge by actively exploring topics new to a group of students (see wikipedia link below). Classrooms would become places where interest-inspired inquiry would become the new curriculum, replacing the model where teachers and other authorities alone dictate what and how things are learned.
    • create new knowledge by learning from research activities. 

      In co-operative inquiry, 

      all those involved in the research endeavor are both co-researchers, whose thinking 

      and decision-making contributes to generating ideas, designing and managing the 

      project, and drawing conclusions from the experience; and also co-subjects, participating in the activity that is being researched. 

    • Share knowledge within a common interest group.Terms like Community of Interest may be used where the focus is a particular topic or region. The significant difference is that the process involves facilitated engagement with knowledgable people to pool their collective (sometimes tacit) knowledge.
    The idea has some similarities with the Community of Practice concept where members of a particular profession share best practice. The focus is on learning together, drawing on both the experience of the group and external sources of knowledge. A link to some Canadian research on the idea from the perspective of an educator is shown below

    Whilst some of the words here may seem a bit academic, this tool is being used in many practical ways. When those involved share their ideas about what works and what doesn't in establishing Communities of Inquiry, these ideas can generally be mapped on the diagram shown below (except that the teaching presence may simply be that of a facilitator or learning event organiser).

    A Community of Inquiry may be established as a structured way to provide a more personal interaction between people with different world views and different snippets of knowledge that can be beneficially combined The ideas behind a Community of Inquiry may be used in conjunction with an on-line learning program, or a Community of Inquiry can be established via the internet (see World Cafe link below). In any case, the process has social, sense-making (cognitive) and facilitation elements that interact to progress learning.


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    Applications

    Some Practical Applications

    The focus is on taking a journey of discovery as a group, making some form of record of what was discussed and reflecting on this to to share what has been learned. There are normally multiple sessions, either organised as a series of meetings or as a number of groups working in parallel. Here are some ideas about applications:

    • Group discussion of a 'hot topic'

    Some teachers embed this as a topic within a traditional course. In other cases, a discussion group use this technique to frame an unstructured course where the learning outcome is simply a broader understanding of the topic(s) of common interest. In these cases, some structure is provided via the community of practice rules of engagement (facilitating learning). The Museum of Victoria (Australia) uses this approach to stimulate visiting schoolchildren.

    • Exploring possible actions in response to a community issue or opportunity 

    This is a blend of learning and research into a topic of significance to participants that can provide a variety of perspectives on that topic. The outcome sought is not simply learning more about the topic, although this will happen, but identifying possible actions to address the problem or opportunity under discussion. An example is a 'Green Sages' program (see link below) and some of the topics discussed under the 'world cafe' umbrella (see link above)

    • Consolidating and sharing what we know

    This is a research activity that draws on community research skills and on their extended social/knowledge networks to collect and organise pieces of information. An example is the UK University of the Third Age (U3A) group shared learning projects (see link below) which are undertaken in conjunction with an institution such as a historical society. The outcome may be a book or reference document of some sort. Structure is provided by the rules of engagement (facilitating research)


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    Learning

    Implementing a Community of Inquiry to facilitate learning.


    The following is an extract from a Museum of Victoria (Australia) community engagement approach -

    What is Community of Inquiry
    A ‘Community of Inquiry’ is a group of people – students, teachers, colleagues - who use discussion to engage in deep thinking, explore big ideas, and grapple with the challenges and possibilities in a puzzling concept, idea or circumstance.
    The process promotes critical thinking and requires members of the group to show respect for each other. It attempts to produce better thinkers and more caring members of society, who accept differences and at the same time, submit conflicts to reasonable scrutiny.

    So, a Community of Inquiry works best when the group agrees that:
    The thinking they will do will be:
    • caring (each member is an integral member of the community),
    • creative (new ideas will be sought and encouraged),
    • critical (good reasons need to be given for ideas and opinions).
    They can all make mistakes, acknowledge them and are willing to be corrected.
     Discuss with students what the process is about and how supportive and respectful behaviour will make it successful.
    This is a thinking process that can challenge assumptions and preconceived ideas.
    • It may be that you need to change your mind.
    • It is NOT about winning an argument.
    • It IS about thinking more deeply about matters of importance to you as a member ofthe community.
    A sense of community is essential – sharing, support and respect for all.
    Differences are an important part of the process. Accept that others may disagree with you. Conflict and mistakes made in good faith are opportunities for learning and growth.

    Guidelines for students
    Be prepared to take part in the discussion.
    • Only one person is to speak at a time.
    • There is a need to ask questions.
    • Deep listening is the key to the process.
    • Give reasons for any opinion you express.
    • Check assumptions, reasoning, evidence – your own as well as others.
    • Define and discuss points of difference as well as points of agreement.
    • Ask others for reasons, definitions, evidence, examples, and assumptions if necessary.
    • Admit when you disagree with something that you may have agreed with earlier.
    Conducting a Community of Inquiry
    1. Have students seated in a way that maximises opportunity for communication and democratic behaviour. This is usually a circle.
    2. Establish appropriate guidelines (see above).
    3. Teach protocols -
      1. I agree with. ………because ……
      2. I disagree with …….because …...
    4. Decide on your ‘trigger material’ such as texts, current events, concepts, students’
    5. brainstorm.
    6. Ask students what they found interesting or puzzling.
    7. Gather students’ questions on the board. Write the names of students alongside the questions they ask. 
    8. Group questions that are the same or similar. 
    9. Discuss the questions in an order decided by a variety of methods such as voting for the most interesting or discussing those that have easy answers first. 
    10. Facilitate the use of ‘wait time’ during the discussion. 
    11. Encourage participants to talk to the whole circle or directly to the person they are answering, rather than always through the teacher. 
    12. Have students raise hands or use ‘talking cards’ to facilitate taking turns.
    13. Participate in the discussion, but, as the teacher, also ‘hold back’ sometimes so as not to influence too much. 
    14. Facilitate questioning that signals cognitive moves that might encourage metacognition. 
    15. Encourage students to recognize that many questions are complex and may never be answered. 
    16. Have students take responsibility for their comments and be prepared to defend, modify or change them as appropriate. 
    17. All challenges made by students in a community of inquiry are to the ideas expressed – not to the people expressing the ideas.

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    Research

    Implementing a Community of Inquiry to facilitate research and problem-solving

    The use of a community of inquiry as a research tool has some many similarities with the notion of action research. A practical example where a mining company worked with a local community is shown in the link below. The outcome evolves through a series of information collection activities by the 'researchers' and workshop activities to discuss what has been learned. The following is an extract from the 'World Cafe' group discussion concept which illustrates the similarity of approach to programs with a learning emphasis. The World Cafe founders are supporting some programs themselves as well as providing tools for others to use (see intergenerational link below).

    World Cafe –Hosting Conversations that Matter

    As a conversational process, the World Café is an innovative yet simple methodology for hosting conversations about questions that matter. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in their life, work, or community. As a process, the World Café can evoke and make visible the collective intelligence of any group, thus increasing people’s capacity for effective action in pursuit of common aims.

    The integrated design principles have been distilled over the years as a guide to intentionally harnessing the power of conversation. When used in combination, they provide useful guidance for anyone seeking creative ways to foster authentic dialogue in which the goal is thinking together and
    creating actionable knowledge.

    Set the Context
    When you have a clear idea of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your Café then the ‘how’ becomes much easier. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and those helping you plan:
    • What is the topic or issue we want to address or explore?
    • Who needs to be invited to participate in this conversation?
    • Who represents both the conventional and the unconventional wisdom?
    • How long do we have for the inquiry?
    • What line(s) of inquiry do we want to pursue? 
    • What themes are most likely to be meaningful and stimulate creativity?
    • What is the best outcome we can envision? 
    • How might we design a path toward that outcome?
    Create Hospitable Space
    Most meeting places are sterile, cold, and impersonal. Consider choosing warm, inviting environments with natural light and comfortable seating. Honour World Café’s long traditions of human hospitality by offering food and refreshments. Hospitable space also means "safe" space--where everyone feels free to offer their best thinking.
    Hospitable space begins with the invitation to attend a Café. Include the theme or central question you'll be exploring in your Café in the invitation. State it as an open-ended exploration, not a problem-solving intervention.

    When people are asked where they have experienced their most significant conversations, nearly everyone recalls sitting around a kitchen or dining room table. There is an easy intimacy when gathering at a small table, that most of us immediately recognise. When you walk into a room and see it filled with café tables you know that you are not in for your usual consultation. Create an ambiance in which young people can relax and be themselves.

    Explore Questions That Matter
    Knowledge emerges in response to compelling questions. Find questions that are relevant to the real-life concerns of the group. Powerful questions that "travel well" help attract collective energy, insight, and action as they move throughout a system. A powerful question is:
    • Simple and clear
    • Thought provoking Generates energy
    • Focuses inquiry
    • Surfaces assumptions 
    • Opens new possibilities 
    • Invites deeper reflection
    • Seeks what is useful
    Encourage Everyone's Contribution
    People engage deeply when they feel they are contributing their thinking to questions that are important to them. Encourage all participants to contribute to the conversation. As Meg Wheatley says "Intelligence emerges as a system connects to itself in new and diverse ways." Each participant in the Café represents an aspect of the whole system's diversity and as each person has the chance to connect in conversation, more of the intelligence inherent in the group becomes accessible.

    Connect Diverse Perspectives
    Ask members to offer their individual perspectives and listen for what is emerging "in the middle of the table." Use the tablecloths and markers to create a "shared visual space" through drawing the emerging ideas. Sometimes the co-created pictures can really be worth a thousand words in showing the
    relationships between ideas. Setting up your Café in conversational rounds and asking people to change tables between rounds allows for a dense web of connections to be woven in a short period of time. Each time you travel to a new table you are bringing with you the threads of the last round and interweaving them with those brought by other travellers. As the rounds progress the conversation moves to deeper levels. People who arrived with fixed positions often find that they are more open to new and different ideas. It's very useful to ask one person to remain at a table to act as the table host. This person will summarize the conversation of the previous round for the newcomers ensuring that any important points are available for consideration in the upcoming round.

    Listening Together and Notice Patterns
    Listening is a gift we give to one another. The quality of our listening is perhaps the most important factor determining the success of a Café. Whole books and courses have been written about how to listen. One of the most powerful things you can do is help young people to develop strong listening skills. A few tips for improving our listening
    • Help people to notice that their tendency to plan their response to what is being said actually detracts from both the speaker and the listener
    • Listen as if each person were truly wise, and sharing some truth that you may have heard before but do not yet fully grasp
    • Listen with an openness to be influenced by the speaker
    • Listen to support the speaker in fully expressing themselves 
    • Listen for deeper questions, patterns, insights and emerging perspectives
    • Listen for what is not being spoken along with what is being shared
    Share Collective Discoveries
    Conversations held at one table reflect a pattern of wholeness that connects with the conversations at the other tables. The last phase of the Café involves making this pattern of wholeness visible to everyone. To do so, hold a conversation between the individual tables and the whole group. Ask the table groups to spend a few minutes considering what has emerged in their Café rounds, which has been most meaningful to them. Distil these insights, patterns, themes and deeper questions down to the essence and then provide a way to get them out to the whole room. It can be helpful to cluster this aspect of the conversation by asking for one thing that was new or surprising and then asking people to share only those ideas which link and build on that particular aspect. When it is clear that the group has exhausted this topic ask for another one and repeat the process until you have given each table or person the opportunity to speak about what matters to them. Make sure that you have a way to capture this, either on flip charts, or by having each table record them on large post-it notes, or even their table cloths which can then be taped to a wall so that everyone can see them. After each table has had the opportunity to share their insights, the whole group may wish to take a few minutes of silent reflection and consider:
    • What is emerging here?
    • If there was a single voice in the room, what would it be saying?
    • What deeper questions are emerging as a result of these conversations?
    • Do we notice any patterns and what do those patterns point to, or how do they inform us?
    • What do we now see and know as a result of these conversations

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    Socialising

    Implementing a community of inquiry to share practical experience.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-wEwg6iyvc

    Here we use one group that has grown globally as an example. Meetup is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. Meetup allows members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, such as politics, books, games, movies, health, pets, careers or hobbies. Users enter their postal code or their city and the topic they want to meet about, and the website helps them arrange a place and time to meet. Topic listings are also available for users who only enter a location. Meetings are held at a variety of public and private venues, and commonly involve hearing form a number of speakers. In some groups, the meeteings are primarily about organising events (e.g. go hiking).  

    Meetup.com receives revenue by charging Organizer Dues to administrators of groups, currently at $14 to $21 per month depending on the payment plan. Members may reimburse the facilitator, depending on the group arrangements. Meetup.com helps direct people with similar interests to the appropriate regional groups. Some individuals make a point of visiting other groups whaen they are travelling.

    Some Meetup examples related to sharing practical experience are:

    • WordPress Tavern where people with a common interest in the use of a free open source website development tool, WordPress,  meet to learn about ways they enhance their skills in its use or help others
    • Groups of entrepreneurs and startup companies that help each other There seems to be several groups in each major city of the world - see for example Under-30 CEOs and Eventory.
    • Groups with a common interest in the environment and sustainability  all around the world For example the Melbourne Group


     The following is an extract from the reference shown below.

    The COI model has great potential as a model for workplace learning. It can encourage participants to apply a critical thinking approach to workplace challenges and is grounded in the pragmatic recognition that most problems are ambiguous and will not have perfect solutions.In a  workplace setting, “teachers” can be learning development specialists, business leaders, and every individual in the organization. However, the learning development team can have an important role in:

    •  Helping participants identify/focus problem or opportunity statements
    • Modeling and developing listening behaviors
    • Mediating and facilitating cooperation and collaboration
    • Helping support a data-driven work culture (e.g., showing how data collection can be used to improve processes and develop better workplace solutions)Showing that the voices of those in the COI are an integral part of learning experiences that are created (and indeed that COI members can create their own learning solutions)

    An important aspect of the COI model that’s critical to workplace success is the interdisciplinary approaches it fosters. It can encourage individuals to cross the boundaries of their traditional communities of practice to focus on the challenges as well as the opportunities that can unify them.



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    Follow-up

    After the Event

    Taking courses, participating in a Global Cafe or meetup can all be regarded as events where there are opportunities to learn for some purpose, learn something specific from the event itself, and to facilitate subsequent action. The Community of Inquiry principles may also be applied in that subsequent action. For example, a World Cafe event may identify a need to learn more through meetups or taking a course. Or vice-versa.

    An overview of  of each kind of Community of Inquiry application is presented below.

    Taking a Course
    - Purpose: recreational learning, vocational learning
    - Outcome: richer knowledge base from sharing, possibly and enhanced social network, broader cognitive skills
    - Subsequent action: take additional courses, apply what was learned in practice

    Global Cafe
    - Purpose: idea generation, problem-solving
    - Outcome: ideas for action, new contacts, possibly extended social network
    - Subsequent action: implement new projects, implement change

    Meetups
    - Purpose: making new social links, sharing in a special interest
    - Outcome: Enhanced social network, expanded list of contacts with special expertise
    - Subsequent action: organisation of common interest events, use of extended social network independently, apply what was learned in a special interest field



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