I have just spent two days at the University of Reading at the Learning Through Enquiry Alliance Conference which has been tied in with Reading’s own Teaching and Learning Conference. A productive few days with excellent hospitality.

I wanted to just note down some of the key highlights of the event, as much as anything for a note to myself.

  • Evaluation … in a session on evaluating enquiry based learning from Norman Powell from Manchester, I was most reassured to understand some of the challenges and issues encountered by the CEEBL team when evaluating CETL, inquiry-based learning initiatives. I was reassured because some of the issues highlighted echoed my own concerns about challenges that I will be facing in forthcoming evaluation activity. The challenges include the disparate nature of initiatives being considered, there is no like for like, indeed there are many variables across CETL initiatives including size of student group, nature of provision, lifespan of initiative and access to data. The need for initiative (unit) level evaluation to be deepened by a meta-analysis was also highlighted. Essentially this means evaluating each initiative and then drawing out key themes that cut across all (or a number of) initiatives.
  • Books! … Good to hear about an innovative module focused around books being introduced, again at Manchester. In this module Chemical Engineers were encouraged to read and review, in considerable detail the content of a book and the experience of engaging in deep reading. A whole module was designed to promote reading and engagement with books.  I was surprised that the assessment was by customised examination, and was impressed that academics read the texts selected by the students before they were accepted as the object of study.  In keeping with the themes of the conference this module enabled learners to inquire in to issues relevant to their own future or interest, learning about their subject but also becoming discriminate and critical book users. I can imagine that this approach would be replicable and adaptable. A remarkably simple but powerful idea, which promotes learning, meta-learning and learning habits.
  • Inquiry by design – in Phil Levy’s workshop we were essentially asked to become students and design an inquiry. The theme of which was inquiry! As well as exploring some different perspectives on inquiry based learning amongst colleagues, the main gain for me was a firm reminder of the need to scaffold a. learners through and inquiry and b. staff who are to begin to engage with this form of learning.
  • Business studies: An inquiry based cased study … A case study of inquiry from Canterbury, Christchurch was really helpful in depicting some of the pragmatic issues with an operational inquiry based module. Unsurprisingly many of the challenges outlines were similar to my own experiences of delivering inquiry based learning through an online mode; students managing work-life balance, a lack of participation in group work and the need for scaffolding sessions to guide the groups through their inquiry.

An emerging theme for me, a meta-theme, was the need for narrative to tell the stories of practice, of evaluation, of online approaches and of assessment approaches.

And to brighten up my blog Phyllis Country Club on the Themes at Henley – the stunning location of the conference dinner.

Phyllis County Club, Henley
Phyllis County Club, Henley