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Supporting the technology-enhanced collaborative inquiry and design project: a teacher's reflections on practices

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In this study, we argue that a teacher has a crucial role in leading students into collaborative inquiry-learning practices. While many studies have given the impression that students are able to engage in inquiry processes on their own, the role of social practices and teacher guidance often remains unexplained. However, even when the pedagogical setting is organized toward collaboration and student-driven inquiry, it does not mean that students will, as a matter of course, collaborate and take collective responsibility for their own learning. This research has been conducted by a teacher and researchers, and reports on the teacher's impressions about organizing and promoting a computer-supported collaborative inquiry process in her classroom of the fourth and fifth grade levels of a Finnish elementary school. The 'Artifact Project' was collaboratively designed together by the class teacher and researchers, but the teacher was responsible for implementing and adapting plans in practice. The aim of the 'Artifact Project - the Past, the Present, and the Future' - was to support students' (n = 32) understanding of the diversity of artifacts. Students were asked to analyze artifacts within the cultural context, to study physical phenomena related to them, and to design future artifacts. A collaborative learning environment, Knowledge Forum, facilitated the activities. During the process, the teacher wrote weekly in a reflective project diary. The template of the diary guided the teacher to reflect on the issues that she considered important at the writing moment: the organizing practices, topic content and process stages; how the classroom community functioned; as well as the role of technology as a support for the process. The contents of the diary were analyzed with qualitative content analysis with the help of AtlasTi software. This study depicts an experienced teacher's practices, her efforts to promote pupils' cognitive responsibility for advancing their collaborative object-oriented inquiry process themselves. Instead of trying to control all aspects of pupils' learning, the teacher assumed the role of an organizer concerning collaborative progressive inquiry and designing activities. Organizing and supporting activities were based on a continuous following of the pupils' states of process. Knowledge Forum structured the process and mediated activities, and rendered their objects visible and accessible to the whole learning collective. We suggest that in order to expand and scale up advanced inquiry practices, teachers' usually invisible work in guiding and directing classroom practices has to be made visible and should be analyzed in detail.

Keywords: collaborative inquiry-learning; reflections; social practices; teacher's guidance; technology-enhanced learning

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland 2: Department of Education, University of Turku, Turku, Finland

Publication date: 2011-02-01

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