Barbara Stripling and I collaborated on a chapter with the same title for the recently published IFLA/ De Gruyter book, Global Action for School Libraries: Models of Inquiry (2022). This chapter did not end up in the book – even though our proposal had been accepted, and our chapter written and submitted – due to space constraints. This was disappointing, given that our motivation for writing the chapter was that a book on inquiry needed to peer into the future as well as reflect on the past and look to the present. It seemed fitting to us, therefore, to pick up this conversation about the evolving nature of inquiry here, and the work that this demands of us still, so that we are not found wanting when our time comes.
Discussing this with Barbara, I recalled being deeply influenced by Danny Hillis’ idea that we ought to be able to learn anything by finding out for ourselves. Now actually being able to learn anything by finding out for ourselves depends upon a number of things, and this seems to me to be a good place to resume our conversation, which is also an unfolding story.
Danny Hillis – inventor, scientist, and computer designer who pioneered the concept of massively parallel computers – in “The Learning Map” at OSCON (O’Reilly Open Source Convention) 2012.
I hope you are planning to publish that chapter somewhere else Darryl!
After an interesting conversation on last night’s #LSLLTS Twitter Spaces chat, one of the things that we discussed was that many students find it very difficult to form an opinion and this links with what you are saying about there being a number of things to consider in being able to find out for yourself. If you are not able to read and decide how you feel about something or have an opinion on something, you are not going to ask the next question and this is a big stumbling block. This is just one of the many things that students have to manage when tackling an inquiry so I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
At the very least, it will feed into the discussion here, Elizabeth.
This is a complex topic, and I am looking forward to some reflective time over the half term break to begin working on, as Luke puts it, “an orderly account … having carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (NIV). I hasten to add that I have not carefully investigated everything from the beginning, but it is my intention to continue doing so to the extent that time and circumstances permit. It is also worth noting that Barbara and I, and all who join our journey here, have arrived here along different paths, and that our paths, while inexorably leading towards the same destination, will diverge and converge at times along the way.
I tracked down Hillis’ talk at OSCON 2012 – The Learning Map – and remember why it had so deeply influenced me.
Hillis says, “We ought to be able to learn anything that we want, and have something that helps guide us through that.” He goes on to recount a story about his Grade 4 (Year 5) Librarian, Mrs Wilmer, who, because she knew her students and her collection [and how to connect them], was able to guide them on their information-to-knowledge journeys, often along pathways that they had not yet come to recognise the importance of.
Now, Hillis goes on to imagine how technology might be used to scale this experience to include all students and all resources, but that is not our concern here. Rather, our concern lies with (1) his idea that we ought to be able to learn anything that we want, and (2) have someone [like Mrs Wilmer] who helps guide us through that.
This idea enables us to begin to unpacking this complex topic.
It is also important to note that our concern here is not providing students in school with the freedom to learn what they want when they want, which is a different matter entirely, but rather, it is ensuring that themany years of school – which, as Postman and Weingartner (1971) point out, “is the one institution in our society that is inflicted on everybody, and [so] what happens in school makes a difference – for good or ill” (p. 12) – produce students who, in addition to anything else that they may have been taught, are actually able to learn anything that they want for themselves, should they choose to do so, with someone to help guide them through that. This requires equipping students with, as Papert (1994) put it, the kind of knowledge children most need, which is knowledge that will help them get more knowledge (p. 139). This seems to be a reasonable expectation of school, given our considerable investment of time, money and effort in our children.
Our concern here, then, is with the kind of school environment that will enable this.
For us, this is an inquiry environment, understood both as “a method of instruction and an environment for formalized learning” (Shera, 1972, p. 177).
Papert, Seymour. (1994). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Postman, Neil, and Charles Weingartner. (1971). Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Shera, Jesse. (1972). Foundations of Education for Librarianship. New York, NY: Wiley-Becker and Hayes.