I am a digital educator. I work daily at the computer and “see” my students through email, assignment submission, and our weekly face to face Zoom meetings to provide content and assistance.   The course is built into the LMS (Learning Management System) months before it is taught, possibly by someone other than me.   So how do I include an Inquiry into my digital world and have students come away with the same excitement and pursing the same endeavor as in the traditional classroom? Can a different teacher see using the IDM, including what I wrote but also adapting to her/his local environment? Can digital students have the same opportunities as the ones in a “bricks and sticks” school setting?    Yes, they can, once you determine if the Inquiry is outside your LMS or built within it.

Consider how you can address each part of the Inquiry through face-to-face sessions if the inquiry isn’t built within the LMS. In my digital classroom, these are 15-20 minute sessions twice weekly, and I know that working with the Containment IDM, I could show videos that otherwise are not available to students within the LMS and I could provide a whiteboard for the brainstorming of thoughts and ideas.   Using the chat feature of our Zoom sessions, we also could discuss each supporting question or read difficult texts together. Breakout sessions where small groups of students are set into their own mini-session allow for their collaboration. They can work out details or create new questions. Students might have to email me their completed tasks instead of submitting them if the IDM is not built in, but most were very anxious to see how their work had turned out, and how quickly I would answer the extra questions the Inquiry had elicited. The face to face environment allows students to work both individually and in groups, addressing the particular circumstances and preferences of each student.   You have this tool to provide engaging content, student choice, individual pacing, and, as I have found, a group of students who wonder why they can’t learn this way every day.

The building of an inquiry into the LMS at its beginning would be a preferred method if possible. Once there, the teacher would have the same options for completing tasks within the assignment protocol of the specific LMS. But remember — not having an Inquiry already present doesn’t mean you can’t use them, as illustrated earlier.

  • Determine which parts of the LMS best serve each feature of the Inquiry (discussion boards will let students break down more difficult content, forums can be another way to allow students to write about their learning, Wikis, etc.), each of which are unique to the LMS you are using.
  • Read the Inquiry carefully and determine what portions can be emailed to students (document links, task forms, etc.) and what portions are best kept for any face-to-face Zoom or Google hangout sessions.   Different LMS programs have special features, and some have many restrictions. It will be best if you know your LMS well before adapting an Inquiry into it.
  • Allow students to give lots of feedback on what worked and what didn’t.   I have tweaked my Containment IDM a little each time, as I find students drawn to questions that are not addressed. At some time I may fully modify that IDM, and that is another feature I like – if an IDM suddenly needs a link changed or a document modified, we are already in the digital world and can go right to the necessary changes.
  • Students may be unable to complete some portions of the IDM (the Taking Informed Action) unless local school support is available. You do have to remember that without you “live and in person” in the school supervising some rally or other activity that students are participating in makes school officials very nervous!   Enlist allies in the schools you serve; sometimes there is a facilitator that is willing to be your feet, ears and eyes. Other times you may find an administrator who understands the purpose of the student activity and will monitor their action. In my case, I have students propose what they would do if actually taking informed action.   It isn’t the same as actually doing something, but in the virtual world you have to recognize that there are limits to our ability to monitor, making TIA somewhat challenging.

Participation is the most powerful part of any Inquiry, and that isn’t any different in the digital world than it is at a brick and sticks school.   Hooking the student at the first moment, and keeping them engaged will require the constant check that links work, and open when needed.   If they don’t work in a traditional classroom setting, the teacher always has the back-up plan (that monitor and adjust thing) that would allow the teacher to cover the content missed because the Internet was down or a link wouldn’t connect, but when everything is wired as we are, you can’t overlook portions that will frustrate them.   Build in a quick link for them to email you if they get stuck, or have a link to a Google form that lets them report any problem that doesn’t let them proceed.

In many ways, all digital education content could, maybe should, follow the IDM concept. Allowing students to have a voice in the understanding of their content, determining how they want to learn parts of the content, and making the choices of how they can act upon what they have learned – that’s just good teaching.   And in the digital world, we love good teaching too – good online teaching!

If the turn to more digital access increases the number of students who access their educational training in the virtual world, we owe them the opportunity to experience the challenge of an Inquiry. They will love it!