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Innovating Pedagogy 2013: Citizen inquiry

blendedlearning's picture

The Innovating Pedagogy report is an annual overview of edutech from the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University. The 2013 report, the second in the series, selects 10 emerging innovations from the long list of existing technologies which the institute believes have the potential to make a significant impact on education. These are not technologies which are in development or even new, but rather technologies and ideas which are already being effected but have room to expand. The report ranks each innovation in terms of potential impact and timescale for implementation, describes its current application, and then explains the pedagogy behind the innovation and how it could be re-envisioned for maximum impact. The last innovation described is the concept of citizen inquiry.

Potential impact: medium
Timescale: long

The Innovating Pedagogy report takes several approaches to explaining and defining exactly what citizen inquiry is, but perhaps the most engaging explanation is that citizen inquiry "fuses the creative knowledge building of inquiry-based learning with the mass civic engagement of volunteer activism." Besides describing the principle itself - that citizen inquiry involves learning about the world through massive guided investigation in which non-professionals are key participants - this definition also says a lot about the values on which the idea of citizen inquiry are based. For example, the emphasis on knowledge acquisition through creativity - citizen inquiry is interested in making inquiry fluid, integrated into everyday life and open to the public's leadership. The idea of inquiry as volunteer activism is also an intriguing one because it posits the process of acquiring and creating knowledge as a kind of civic duty.

Part of citizen inquiry concerns bringing in learners from across ages, disciplines, and walks of life. In theory, all these people would participate in the process of investigation from beginning to end taking on roles that span from devising topics for investigation to presenting results, and everything in between.

While it's interesting - and worthwhile - to envision the mass applications for such projects (for example, using mass participation to create huge data sets based on observation), it's more likely that citizen inquiry projects will be small and based upon mutual interest and the sharing of expertise. The difficulty of citizen inquiry is to manage the scale and structure of these projects, maintaining the value of personally-motivated inquiry while crafting well-designed and ethical methods and organizational structures. Towards this end, citizen inquiry can draw from learning through gaming and maker culture to find ways to to encourage creativity and engagement while maintaining some semblance of rules and structure.

Why, then, does the report consider citizen inquiry to be an innovation of only medium potential impact? Because, frankly, citizen inquiry can be both difficult and risky. It is prone to both disorganization, unscientific methods, and what the report refers to as "mutual delusion." Only certain kinds of learning are really eligible for citizen inquiry, the kinds of projects which can be carefully designed. Other projects can spiral out of control, or simply fail to produce useable results.

For more information or to read the full report, visit Open University's blog.