As I prepare to head back to classes next week, I find myself thinking a lot about use of various terms that are being tossed about in my corner of education these days (and, as I write this, I find another article about another term that has become equally problematic that might interest readers.)  Guided Inquiry was developed by Carol Kuhlthau and the folks at Rutgers a bunch of years ago, but if I do a Google search or speak to certain people about it, it feels like the term is “owned” by the science education community.  Are both groups talking about the same thing?  Or are there two different “Guided Inquiries” floating about.  (Thanks to Leslie Maniotes, I find out that they are, indeed, to different uses of the term)

Likewise, the whole PBL discussion leaves me a bit confused.  Project Based Learning seems to have it’s home at the Buck Institute but how is it related to Problem Based Learning?  Both are similar in that they are inquiry-based approaches to dealing with learning concepts that are, primarily, student-centered.  Or the driving questions or problems being addressed have some deeper relevance to the students.  How does Guided Inquiry overlap with either PBL?  Inquiry is a key element, but it seems that there is less emphasis on the process of inquiry in PBL than there is in Guided Inquiry.  PBL expects that the product of the learning process is appropriate to the issue being dealt with and is more likely to be something other than your traditional essay.  But then again, Guided Inquiry doesn’t assume “traditional” forms of learning output either.  The product of all of these approaches is likely to be any number of presentations, physical products, digital creations or…  When we speak of the product, then we are also dipping our toes into the area of Maker Learning.  Makers are focused more on the end product, it seems, than addressing a particular concept.  Maybe there is a continuum here that looks like:


Guided Inquiry <———–> PBL <————> Maker Learning


inquiry focus <————————————> product focus


The danger with this continuum seems to be that the best Maker Learning uses maker skills and ideas to explore deep inquiry that extends well beyond the product creation focus.  Likewise, great Guided Inquiry can produce some amazing products that demonstrate the best of creation skills.  Not that Maker Learning and Guided Inquiry are opposites, but, I suspect that, like extreme opposites in many other areas, the net result ends up looking an awful lot alike.

I find it disconcerting when talking with educators to find that we are using the same words but are having entirely different conversations.  If we realize that our use of the terms are different, then we can have some great conversation about what those differences are and lend some clarity to our thinking and discussion.  But more often than not, I find myself leaving a conversation wondering about little inconsistencies and or feeling like I don’t really understand the term in question.  I think that it’s important that we are careful with the words we use and ensure that our communities of educators are coming from a similar place, at least in terms of the discussions we are having even if our personal practice differs.

Today’s thoughts…  As always, please poke, prod or generally correct me!  🙂

3 thoughts on “Jargon – Questions more than answers

  1. Thanks Marc
    Do you think that we are swamped with new buzz words because we face such momentous change in our society due to technology? Or perhaps the nature of critical thought drives us to come up with what believe are new discoveries in methodology? I enjoyed your post – food for thought on PBL, LMS’s and Flipped Learning – constructivists, constructionists and creative tinkerers!

  2. Hi, Jill! Thanks for the read.

    I think that there are a number of things that influence this buzz word swamping. Part of it is that there is such rapid technological change. That causes truly new ideas to come to the surface, but it also causes the rethinking of old ideas in a new context. I think that this links to “Long-Tail” theories as well (and I’m probably misusing that term). I thing that the folks at the front-edge of change do put considerable time and energy into defining an idea and it is important to them that their term is used as the intended it. As an idea gains some traction, people grab labels and stick them where they think they are appropriate without, necessarily doing the research to truly understand the term. I think that PBL is currently being used in too many places as simply anything that has a “project” as an end result, without understanding some of the basic structures and concepts behind PBL as it was originally coined.

    Now, I think that a lot of times, the original concept and associated term can stand some refinement after it’s initial birth, but this comes with an understanding of where the ideas first started. Refining a misconception doesn’t really get us anywhere…

    Hope all is sunny and warm “Down-Under”!

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