Inquiry-Based Learning with or without Facilitator Interactions

By Weerasinghe, Thushani Alwis; Ramberg, Robert et al. | International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, May 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Inquiry-Based Learning with or without Facilitator Interactions


Weerasinghe, Thushani Alwis, Ramberg, Robert, Hewagamage, Kamalanath Priyantha, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education


Abstract

This paper discusses findings of a study investigating how students, in four online courses, engaged in inquiry-based learning with and without support from a facilitator. The investigation was conducted by analyzing discussions of the online courses using the community of inquiry model. The results of the study imply that students in online discussions can engage in deep and meaningful learning, even when there is no facilitator interaction. Further, the findings of the analysis suggest that successful inquiries are possible without teacher or facilitator interactions, if learning environments are designed to support students being interactive and the students have motivation, regulatory skills and a willingness to collaborate with their peers.

Résumé

Dans le cadre de cet article, nous discutons les résultats obtenus dans une étude visant à déterminer comment des élèves, participant à quatre cours en ligne, se sont engagés dans un processus d'apprentissage par enquête, soit avec ou sans l'aide d'un facilitateur. L'étude a été réalisée en analysant les discussions relatives aux cours en ligne au moyen du modèle du Community of Inquiry (CoI). Les résultats de l'étude laissent entendre que les élèves participant aux discussions en ligne peuvent réaliser des apprentissages approfondis et significatifs, même en l'absence d'interaction avec un facilitateur. De plus, les résultats de l'analyse suggèrent que des enquêtes peuvent être réussies sans intervention de la part d'un enseignant ou d'un facilitateur si, d'une part, les environnements d'apprentissage sont conçus de manière à favoriser l'interactivité des élèves et, d'autre part, les étudiants ont la motivation, les compétences requises et la volonté de collaborer avec leurs pairs.

Introduction

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a question-driven learning approach, which has the potential to promote students' active engagement in online learning. It has been considered an effective method of engaging students in higher-order learning in university-level educational programmes (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Oliver, 2008). IBL processes support students from scientific disciplines in constructing subject knowledge, as well as acquiring reasoning skills and engaging in practices collaboratively (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn, 2007).

According to Hmelo-Silver et al. (2007, p. 100), a teacher in an IBL environment "plays a key role in facilitating the learning process and may provide content knowledge on a just-in-time basis". This line of reasoning implies that teacher or facilitator interactions are essential for students' learning in IBL environments. Also, research studies pertaining to online learning environments (e.g., Fredericksen, Pickett, Pelz, & Maher, 2000; Swan, 2002; Gibbings, Lidstone, & Bruce, 2010) indicate that the teacher-facilitator's interaction positively correlates with students' learning. However, Anderson, et al (2001) report that such a teaching role in an online community of inquiry can be considered a collaborative activity, i.e., consisting of one or more participants in the community. Accordingly, students that belong to a community of inquiry have the opportunity of assuming the role of a teacher. Therefore, it is important to examine teacher interactions further to shed light on, and possibly determine, whether student-student interactions can be more or less important than teacher -facilitator-student interaction for students' learning in IBL environments. Furthering our knowledge on this would be beneficial for instructional designers and online course developers, who are interested in knowing what sort of interactions should be emphasized and implemented in IBL environments.

In order to examine teacher interactions in an IBL environment, discussions in the learning environment can be analyzed using the teaching presence component of the community of inquiry (CoI) model (Anderson et al. …

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