Navigating the corridor of inquiry

It’s not often that I have an Aha! moment reading an academic article. Many have significant flaws and many of the best repeat what’s been said many times before. But I had a very different reaction to Patricia M. Shields’sPragmatism as a Philosophy of Science: A Tool for Public Administration.”

The paper shows how pragmatism as a philosophy of science is used in a research methods class. The course includes guides to writing an empirical capstone project, such as steps to follow, the notebook method, and the classification of conceptual frameworks.  But what makes it special is the explication of these in terms of their roots in the ideas of Peirce, Dewey, and James.

She quotes from William James (1904), who writes about the relation of pragmatism to theories:

Theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas, in which we can rest. We don’t lie back upon them, we move forward, and, on occasion, make nature over again by their aid. Pragmatism unstiffens all our theories, limbers them up and sets each one at work…

All these [theories], you see, are anti-intellectualist tendencies… [pragmatism] stands for no particular results. It has no dogmas, and no doctrines save its method. As the young Italian pragmatist Papini has well said, it lies in the midst of our theories, like a corridor in a hotel. Innumerable chambers open out of it. In one you may find a man writing an atheistic volume; in the next some one on his knees praying for faith and strength; in a third a chemist investigating a body’s properties. In a fourth a system of idealistic metaphysics is being excogitated; in a fifth the impossibility of metaphysics is being shown. But they all own the corridor, and all must pass through it if they want a practicable way of getting into or out of their respective rooms.

The paper accomplishes four major feats. First, it serves as an excellent introduction to pragmatism, articulating it in terms of actual experience and concrete action in the world, as pragmatists would have it. Second, it offers a way of thinking about research, which can help anyone who struggles with the relation between theory and practice, or gets stuck in dichotomies such as quantitative/qualitative. It show how theories can come alive, be unstiffened, so that they can help us make sense of experience without overconstraining. Third, the paper describes a creative use of an institutional repository, which helps students enter into a community of inquiry. See, for example, the excellent paper by Robert Brom (2000), Workplace diversity training: A pragmatic look at an administrative practice. Finally, it does a fine job of doing what it sets out to do, to describe the process of designing an excellent approach to a research methods or capstone course.

References

Brom, Robert A. (2000). Workplace diversity training: A pragmatic look at an administrative practice. Applied Research Projects. Paper 91.

James, William (1904, December). What is Pragmatism. From series of eight lectures dedicated to the memory of John Stuart Mill, A new name for some old ways of thinking, from William James, Writings 1902-1920. The Library of America

Shields, Patricia M. (1998). Pragmatism as a philosophy of science: A tool for public administration. Faculty Publications-Political Science. Paper 33.

Inquiry-based learning concepts

We talked in my class Monday about the terms that help us describe inquiry-based learning, or that derive from thinking about it. Students made their individual lists, then shared those with a partner, then in the group as a whole. There was to me a surprising diversity of responses, but with a sense that the different clusters of words were mutually reinforcing.

Below is a tag cloud we made of the terms. We could have added “fallibilism,” “adventure,” “moral,” “trust,” “dialogue,” “reciprocity,” and others. We also agreed that it’s the connections among the terms that really matter. Nevertheless, it was interesting to turn this mirror on our class dialogue over the semester.

Coming attractions!

Patrick W. Berry’s course website Writing Technologies is designed to “explore historical and theoretical accounts of how writing technologies have shaped and continue to shape what and how we compose” and to write “using a variety of new and sometimes old technologies in order to explore the affordances and limitations of each.” It’s wonderful to see how the medium of the course illustrates the very principles it’s teaching.

In addition to excellent standard course resources, there’s a blog, with many interesting posts. One, of special interest to me, is “The Disappearance of Technology”: The Movie. Patrick writes:

After reading Chip Bruce and Maureen Hogan’s “The Disappearance of Technology: Toward an Ecological Model of Literacy,” our class created movie posters using Photoshop that attempted to capture a central theme of the reading.

The result of this effort is available here: http://gallery.me.com/pb112233/100088.

The idea to do the posters and the subsequent realizations are excellent (be sure to try the slideshow option). I was impressed by the variety of responses and the creative use of photos, colors, graphics, fonts, and other visual elements. The posters show how re-mediating an idea can both bring out the meaning and add new meaning as well, with different posters bringing out different aspects of our relations with new technologies.

Community Inquiry Labs

Inquiry cycle

Inquiry cycle

Community Inquiry Labs (aka CIL’s or CILabs) is rising again!

What is CILabs?

Drawing from the work of John Dewey and others, showing that education begins with the curiosity of the learner, CILabs promotes an iterative process of inquiry: asking questions, investigating solutions, creating new knowledge, discussing experiences, and reflecting on new-found knowledge, in a way that leads to new questions.

In addition to the standard features found on group support sites, such as Ning, Google, Yahoo, and Moodle, CILabs offers a means for building Inquiry Units based on the Inquiry Cycle. Also, unlike most university-supported software there is a secure means for users without university netid’s to participate. This is crucial for university-community collaborations.

CILabs (aka iLabs) are being used currently in courses such as Will Patterson’s Hip Hop as Community Informatics and Martin Wolske’s Intro to Network Systems. Projects such as Youth Community Informatics use it as do a variety of  other projects and organizations.

The redesign

Despite filling a need for many individuals and groups since 2003, use of CILabs fell off after a security hole was discovered in CILabs 3. That led to a temporary shutdown and a major redesign on the Drupal platform.

Thanks to the support of Robert Baird at CITES EdTech, a project to rebuild CILabs was led by Alan Bilansky with Julieanne Chapman as lead programmer. Claudia Serbanuta represented GSLIS and the CILabs user base. The new CILabs is now hosted by the University of Illinois College of Education, thanks to Ryan Thomas and John Barclay. This represents an unusual and successful collaboration across two colleges and CITES, with support from the Center for Global Studies, Community Informatics Initiative and the Illinois Informatics Institute.

I encourage you to give it a try now, and to let us know how to improve it.it

Community as Intellectual Space, 2009

CI_2008The fifth annual Community as Intellectual Space Symposium will be held on June 12-14 at La Estancia on 2753 W. Division Street, Paseo Boricua, Chicago, Illinois.

The theme of the symposium is Critical Pedagogy: Community Building as Curriculum. As professionals and institutions are engaging with communities to enhance the life chances and well-being of residents, the conference examines how community-building and critical pedagogy can offer effective and sustainable change, locally and among collaborators as well.

BateyThe keynote speaker this year is Antonia Darder, a Professor at the University of Illinois in Educational Policy Studies and Latino/a Studies. There will be presentations and workshops on

The conference also offers Batey Urbano‘s production of Crime against Humanity, screenings of original documentaries filmed on Paseo Boricua, community tours, and art exhibits.

Community as Intellectual Space is co-organized by the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center (Chicago) and the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Continuing Professional Development Units (CDPUs), academic course credit for those who enroll in UI’s LIS590 CIO, and registration scholarships available.

LIS 590 IBL, Inquiry-Based Learning, Spring 2009

We’ve changed the format for my spring course, Inquiry-Based Learning. It was originally scheduled as a LEEP (online) offering, LIS 590 IBO, but will now instead be offered on campus as LIS 590 IBL. Please share this description with anyone who may be interested.

  • Course: LIS 590 IBL, Inquiry-Based Learning (CRN: 36880)
  • Instructor: Bertram (Chip) Bruce
  • Semester: Spring, 2009
  • Prerequisites: Graduate student status
  • Schedule: Mondays, 9:00-11:50 am, 109 LISB
  • Website: http://illinois.edu/goto/ibl

Inquiry-based learning is a powerful way of thinking about learning as it occurs in libraries, museums, community centers, homes, workplaces, or online, as well as in formal settings, such as schools and universities. It implies the creation of environments in which learners are actively engaged in making meaning through personal and collaborative inquiry. It does not ignore the usual focus on content/skills: “What should be taught?,” or method: “How should we teach?” but begins with even more basic questions about the nature of learning and life.

Because of this, considerations of inquiry-based learning lead directly to issues of lifelong learning, the nature of knowledge, purpose, social justice, and democracy. This broad sweep makes it impossible to encapsulate inquiry-based learning in a simple framework or method. But it is also an indication of its importance in defining ways of thinking about the meaning of community, the roles of teachers and students, the relations between school and society, and how learning and life go together.

In the course we will examine the nature of inquiry and of inquiry-based learning, drawing on philosophical, historical, and critical sources such as Jane Addams, John Dewey, Paolo Freire, and Myles Horton. We’ll read about, observe, and engage in inquiry-based learning. In the course of this, we’ll also consider challenges to inquiry-based learning, including those related to management, assessment, basic skills, cultural differences, and pedagogical goals.

Literacy in the information age: Inquiries into meaning making with new technologies

liabookEducators today want to go beyond how-to manuals and publications that merely celebrate the many exciting new technologies as they appear in schools. Students are immersed in an evolving world of new technology development in which they are not passive recipients of these technologies but active interpreters of them. How do you help learners interpret these technologies as we all become immersed in the new information age? Continue reading

Assistant Professor, Rutgers

I was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey during 1971-74. The Department was new, starting just two years earlier.

I taught in both the Graduate College and the undergraduate, Livingston College, which “embodied the spirit of social responsibility and cultural awareness demanded by students of the time.” My office was in the Hill Center for the Mathematical Sciences in the Busch Campus in Piscataway (upper right).

canalThrough Livingston College, I taught courses such as basic programming and data structures. One of my favorites was Models of Thought, an early cognitive science course. I also taught masters and doctoral students in areas such as Non-Numerical Algorithms, Natural Language Processing, Question Answering by Computer, Artificial Intelligence, and Discrete Structures.

[Hill Center photo from the Rutgers website; Delaware and Raritan canal photo from canalphotos.org]

Longitude 74.47168 W, Latitude 40.52180 N.