Teaching as inquiry and e-learning: 3 questions

I have done a fair bit of work with schools recently exploring what the ‘teaching as inquiry’ professional learning cycle looks like in a school that has e-learning as a focus.

There seem to be a handful of key questions that keep coming up that I thought I would touch on in this post

1. What kind of things do we focus on for our inquiry?

Really effective professional learning, in an inquiry cycle, draws first and foremost on the evidence of what is happening for the learners with whom we work. We draw on all kinds of information, both formal and informal, to understand what the needs and strengths of students might be. Looking across the information, we might ask ourselves: what is the area of greatest priority that I need to focus my attention on right now?

While we might feel we want to spend our e-learning reflection time focusing on how to use a tool, it is best done as part of a leaning focus. For example, asking ourselves how we might support a group of learners engage with an aspect of literacy using collaborative tools is likely to result in more focused shift in our practice (and make more of a difference for the learners) than ‘how does Google docs work?’.

So, e-learning inquiry is primarily a learning inquiry in a digital context.

2. Do we all have to use the same platform to share our learning?

There are many schools that have explored e-portfolios as platforms for teachers’ professional learning, and I know of quite a few that mandated one particular tool, such as MyPortfolio, for the whole staff.

This is where the discussion about the vision for learners in the school comes in. Do we want our learners to have choice and agency? Do we want learners to be able to choose the most appropriate tool for the job? If this is a strong theme in our school community, it stands to reason that this is crucial for our staff’s learning, too. The importance here is not the tool, or that we are keeping some kind of digital record of learning.

The most important aspect is that we continue to reflect and inquire into how well our actions are impacting on our students’ learning.

3. How do we choose what to capture as evidence of our e-learning inquiry?

This is where one’s own professionalism comes in. The choice of evidence to capture is driven by the question we are exploring. So, we might need to capture conversation with students, images of work, assessment data, observation notes….the focus is on achievement against the learning outcomes (grounded in the curriculum), not (just) in what is happening with particular technologies. If I am supporting students to understand the concept and application of structure in a piece of writing for English, the impact of my actions are reflected in the shifts they make in their understanding of structure (their writing over time, their conversations), not in how they have used Google docs for drafting. The technology may have removed barriers to exploring structure, but the value of that is in their growth in understanding of writing.

The tech is merely the enabler – the engine – while the curriculum and pedagogy are in the driver’s seat.


..and if you liked this, you might find the following resources useful too:

6 thoughts on “Teaching as inquiry and e-learning: 3 questions

  1. Loved reading this Karen – really helpful for professional learning discussions at the moment.
    For me, the key message is using tech to support and ‘enable’, it doesn’t drive what we do as teachers and learners – curriculum and learning are the focus points.
    Looking forward to sharing it with others.



  2. Hey Karen, this makes a lot of sense, the e-learning technologies are just tools. Curriculum design still remains at the heart of it. I’ve been thinking about digital techs recently, ‘yes, we have ipads’. I think, ‘wow great how are you empowering my child to extend his inquiry skills? Kids are quick to show you how they can manipulate the tool and rush from one screen to the next, but how many can formulate their own inquiry and know what material they need to answer the question or how to move beyond this? This is what I would like to see happening as a parent.
    Re assessment: There are many ways to present a product. The content of the product is the crucial part. If innovation is a goal it should follow that there are many ways to share? Shouldn’t it?


  3. Hi Karen,
    What a wonderful read! This is very timely for us as we support our teachers with their inquiries. The questions will really serve as great discussion for our sessions.
    Anne K


    1. Dear Anne, Lyndal, Fleur and Justine – Thank you so much for all your comments and for on-sharing with your colleagues. Glad it has made a useful contribution;). Cheers!


  4. This might also be of value, especially if teachers want to to examine the effect of doing one thing different in one class, in one lesson. This particular model is one I’ve been refining over a few years, for it helps teachers focus on what they do in specific instances of learning. The question they want to investigate is important, as is the method my which they collect/document evidence for analysis (ie reflection – how did I do? What do my learners say about their learning when I designed the use of X instead of Y? See this public page: http://myportfolio.school.nz/user/noelinewright/teachingasinquiry


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