Final reflection

Wow this has been an interesting journey!  Not only have I built a knowledge base around the different theories and concepts involved in inquiry learning, but I’ve also developed a range of inquiry and information literacy skills as well.  2016 has certainly been the Year of the Blog for me and I’ve been completely converted to this style of knowledge building and assessment!

I started the semester wondering what different forms inquiry learning can take, and why most of these weren’t commonly used in my professional context.  At the start of this semester, I was really only familiar with problem based and case based learning in terms of inquiry learning styles.  My hunch was that in a profession where asking questions is central to being a competent practitioner, surely learning to ask good questions would help develop clinical reasoning skills.  But was this the case?  Was there any evidence to back up my assumptions?  During Assignment 1, I was able to gather evidence which supported the idea that inquiry learning has been shown to develop students’ clinical reasoning skills.  However, the vast majority of the literature I found supported my personal experience; that inquiry learning mainly takes the form of problem based or case based learning in health professional education.  I then wondered whether other forms of inquiry learning have been found to improve clinical reasoning skills and/or develop professional identity in undergraduate students.  I could find very little evidence of this.

As I moved on to Assignment 2, I began to understand why this might be the case.  Prior to commencing this unit, I had underestimated just how many interrelated concepts need to work together to design a true, authentic unit of inquiry that extends beyond generic questioning.    I found this quite daunting to begin with, and I expect that some of my colleagues in health professional education might feel the same way.  Considering inquiry models, levels of inquiry, questioning frameworks, and ensuring that there are embedded opportunities for the development of inquiry and information literacy skills can seem quite confusing at first.  But as I persevered, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place and I was reminded (thanks to the first reflection) that the first time we ever do something is almost always the most difficult.  Each time I go through this process it will get a little easier, and our students are exactly the same.  For example, the first time we require them to use a questioning framework to formulate their own questions about a concept, it will probably take longer and be more difficult than expected.  However with practice, students will certainly get better at it.  Going through this process myself unexpectedly gave me empathy for our students who are near the beginning of their journey to becoming dentists, and I was reminded that part of our role in education is to encourage a growth mindset in our students.

I have concluded that inquiry learning works best if it is a strategy that is used across a whole program rather than in an isolated unit.  In this way, skill building can occur gradually over time in an integrated fashion.  Furthermore, inquiry based pedagogy can achieve a range of outcomes; not just knowledge building, but also building critical appraisal and research skills, professional identity, and clinical reasoning ability.  And if designed well, it removes the need to teach some of these skills and attributes in isolation.

For me, the biggest thing I will take away from this unit is Lupton’s GeSTE windows.  The idea that inquiry doesn’t just have to be generic and situated, but can also be transformative and expressive was a light bulb moment for me.  Not only does this idea align with much of the current literature around higher education (eg. student strategies and expectations of 21st century graduates), it’s also much more fun, engaging and satisfying for students and teachers alike.  Surely that can only be a good thing!

So where to from here?  I feel as though this is just the beginning of my inquiry journey, rather than the end.  This part of the journey has led me to question what the barriers are to implementing inquiry learning as a widespread pedagogy in my professional context.  It would also be interesting to explore how other disciplines outside health use inquiry learning.  But mostly, I’d like to learn more about transformative learning.  So the journey continues…

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