In this series on learner choice, recent posts have laid out our goal to identify and promote the practice of instilling learner choice and self direction within planned instruction. We’ve laid out frameworks for identifying the value and practice of learner choice, and we’ve discussed the learning science and consulting processes involved with Dr. Bernard Bull.
In this post, we start looking at Apropos, our collaborative learning application built around a group search activity. Search “sessions” begin with a search prompt from educators. Learners then search the Web, query Gooru’s educational resource collection, or provide links to their own files in relation to the prompt. When the search phase is over, the group can discuss what they have found, prune or rank the results, and then save everything for future reference or further instruction.
Apropos is a great tool for encouraging learners to direct a classroom or homework activity because they MUST make choices to complete the task: finding web pages, confirming that they are relevant and worthy of sharing, and then reviewing what others share as the group constructs an understanding of a search topic together. As we often say on our team, learners drive the content, and educators drive the outcomes.
But what do we mean by outcomes, specifically, in Apropos? What kinds of learning are actually happening in these group search sessions? Today, let’s look at one example of a type of search activity we have seen from educators using our app. Our example illustrates learning by learners AND educators.
Let’s say a group is starting a new unit in a history class on World War I. As the unit begins, the educator uses Apropos to see what learners might already know about the causes of the war. With a search prompt that reads, “What were some of the main causes of World War I?”, learners search for answers and share links to web pages that identify the causes. The educator has a chance to react to learner choices within a planned activity, and learners have a chance to test the relevancy and veracity of what they have found and shared.
The learner outcomes are recall, recognition, and association of these historical concepts (not to mention tasks such as searching for content and determining relevancy). Educators learn, too, by seeing what their learners find on the topic and by distinguishing what students actually recalled versus what they asked the search engine to find. Educators can see this difference because they see what learners share and the specific search terms that each learner used to find these results.
Results that were found when a learner copied the “causes of WWI” prompt into the search engine might indicate that the learner did not actually know of this cause in advance. Search terms that speak directly to a cause, such as “geopolitical alliances cause WWI”, indicate deeper knowledge. In Apropos, educators can use these distinctions to help associate and test learners’ pre-existing knowledge in relation to the topic at hand.
Moreover, this same activity could be revisited at the end of the unit. The educator can ask the learners to search this same topic to see if they would find different or better causes of the war or resources that explain these concepts better.
Finally, educators can also associate related sessions in order to establish a different path through the unit’s instruction, one guided by the educator’s topics but driven entirely by learner choices: content, ratings and discussion of this exercise in inquiry-based learning.