Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Friday, April 24, 2009

American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Conference - San Diego, California

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about the American Educational Research Association annual conference and I finally got the opportunity to experience the event “first hand”. Wow, over 1400 concurrent session blocks with around 15,000 conference delegates.

Irene Naested (the Chair of our Mount Royal Education & Schooling Program) and I touched down in San Diego on Monday April 13th to sunny skies and warm weather. The reason we were at the conference is that Irene had been invited to participate in a panel session about nine Canadian pre-service teacher education programs that had been sponsored by the Canadian Society for Studies in Education (CSSE). Our session was well received and we made a lot of important contacts while attending the conference.

We stayed at the Manchester Hyatt Hotel on the water front and upon our arrival they provided us with the option of each staying in a 1500 sq. ft. hospitality suite with a Murphy bed. We decided to go for the opportunity and it was wonderful to have lots of space along with a full dining room kitchen and work study. Sigh, the lens of the camera jammed again and I didn’t think that I would be able to take any pictures until I met Ron MacDonald from the University of PEI on the last day of the conference. Ron also has a Canon PowerShot and he explained to me that you just to “tap” the camera body – in order to un-jam the lens (it works). Thus, the trip pictures are very limited.

The number of session options and special interest group (SIG) sessions at the conference was overwhelming. I’ve just highlighted a few in this blog posting but I did try to make a complete set of notes for all the sessions that I attended.

Community of Inquiry as a Theoretical Framework to Foster “Epistemic Engagement” in Online Education – Peter Shea

  • Online Education – over 20% of all college students, over 1 million K to 12 students
  • Challenges – technologies evolving, building a plane as it flies – where is the plane going – flight plan
  • Conceptual frameworks of learning – Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt (2006) – RER

1. Presentational view

· Focus on information transmission

· Visualize abstract concepts

· Myth of immaculate perception

2. Performance tutoring view

· Automated environments that support problem solving

· Increase student-content interaction, transform passive to active learning experiences

· Lack of social context

3. Epistemic engagement view

· Intellectual engagement and interaction

· Engages in questioning, makes connections, validation of knowledge, student-student and student-instructor interaction

· Challenge of reflective learning and co-construction of knowledge – successfully orchestrating (an instructional) dialogue demands sophisticated skills

The Use of Research Circles in Education from Sweden

  • Democratic knowledge practices
  • Characteristics
    • Starting with the participants’ problem
    • A meeting on equal terms
    • Mutual knowledge construction
    • Open and critical attitude
    • Building knowledge together
    • Critical reflection
    • Collective knowledge construction
    • Documentation – making public
  • Used as a process in Sweden for political decisions

  • Epistemology
    • View of knowledge – non-hierarchal, anti-authoritarian, in essence democratic
    • Construction of knowledge – interaction, reflection, critical analysis
    • A critical approach


  • No Scholarship of Teaching & Learning SIG at AERA
  • Roots in participatory action research (PAR) – focus on community development
  • Issue of action research not being considered “scientifically” viable – quantitative focus of AERA

Research Report: Evaluation of Information and Communication Technology in the Service of Action Research

  • Learning from and through practice
  • Disposition – way of thinking
  • Adaptive expertise versus routine expertise – focus on continual improvement
  • Cycles of inquiry
  • Progressive problem solving
  • Technology – mediate relationships of others either through the creation of conceptual artifacts or visualization of shared cognition
  • Structure of human activity (Engestrom, 1987) – activity theory – different framework for action research (instruments, rules, division of labour)
  • Issue of problem finding – developed skill – educated mind – one who knows how to find problems
  • Focus on “acting” on results of research – not just on dissemination of results

Traditional Textbook vs Student Authored Wikibook - Old Dominion University, Norfolk, West Virginia

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Virtual School Society (VSS) Conference - Vancouver, BC

From my perspective, Vancouver on a sunny day is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I was fortunate enough to enjoy three such days for the Virtual School Society (VSS) Annual Conference. I had been invited to attend the conference in order to facilitate a post-secondary “spotlight session” on the Seven Principles of Good Practice for Online Education. I only had 45 minutes for the session but I’m proud to say that I made it through all seven principles and provided a couple of opportunities for audience interaction (e.g. think/pair/share about the participants’ own principles).

The conference was also a wonderful opportunity to get-together with Amanda Coolidge, who used to be an instructional designer in the Academic Development Centre at Mount Royal. Amanda left Calgary to work with the BBC in Kenya as an instructional designer and great to hear about her stories and adventures.

I must admit that I really enjoyed the “energy” of the participants at the VSS Conference. Simply amazing the wide range of online strategies that are being used to provide rich learning opportunities for K to 12 students. I met a woman who lives in Whistler and snowboards during the day and then runs an outreach high school in the evening. The folks from the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (Ralph Helder and Jerry Poole) shared with me how their group has been “team teaching” with classroom-based teachers to support a wide range of high school subject levels in one class (e.g. Math 10, 12, 14, 16). And, a principal of a virtual school in Kelowna explained to me how they pay their own high school students to develop content for their online courses (e.g. Flash Animations).

As usual I took a series of pictures and notes to capture the conference experience. A couple of the keynotes provided some useful advice for me as an educator and a parent.

Tod Maffin


1. Inform your child’s learning space – conducive to cognitive development – no electronic devices in the area – no flickering monitors – the learning environment is key

2. Inform the habits of your children – kids need A LOT of sleep and good healthy food – impacts brain development

3. Inform balance of life

o Focus on just doing one thing in life

o Able to just “be” – many children fear boredom (a space to just “be”) – we lack the ability to “not work” – human being versus human Doing

Ellen Wagner

Eight Simple Rules for Engaging Learners

  1. Capture your students attention - point of focus (Bridge of a lesson plan)
  2. Convince students to care (relevant objectives)
  3. Motivate students to change
  4. Give students choice
  5. Connect students with community
  6. Induce students to participate (students choice to participate)
  7. Enable opportunities for students to contribute
  8. Make your class an experience to remember

And, a few key resources that I hope to use in my own courses are the following:

The Canadian Critical Thinking Consortium

Image Challenger – Activities for Developing Critical Literacy Skills – develops online K-12 educational material

Education for a Digital World – Online Book from the Commonwealth of Learning

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge