OK, I get caught up on words. If you read even a couple of my previous posts, you know that. But words are important. The deeper you go in a discipline, the more subtle differences in a definition can make huge differences. You don’t have to dig very deep in education discussions to find that out about the word “Inquiry.”
The problem with these words is that when we first start using them, we get it. We know what we mean and we assume that everyone else has the same definition. Inquiry simply means the process of asking questions and getting answers. It could be something as simple as asking a reference librarian where a particular book is, or it could be something a little deeper like figuring out the answer to the meaning of life. The problem is that there are a lot of subtleties in that spectrum and some people seem to think that the word inquiry fits a particular point along the spectrum, but not necessarily the full spectrum. This was highlighted to me when I was reading John Spencer and AJ Juliani’s book Launch. At one point, they innocently state, “However, their wonder will lead to inquiry, then research, and eventually a product idea.” (p70) I will admit that my head exploded on a certain scale.
If inquiry is asking and answering questions, then isn’t research inquiry? Now, I recognize that Spencer and Juliani are talking about a process where the understanding starts broad and then goes deeper, but that distinction between inquiry and research makes me wonder what kinds of conversations I’ve had with people where we might be expressing entirely different things. In the context of pedagogical design, these are important distinctions! If one of us is thinking, “We need them to ask great questions so that they can come to a basic understanding of the concept,” and the other is thinking, “The students need to be able to drill down, ask the hard questions, and wrestle with the fundamental issues within this concept,” we are looking for two vastly different outcomes and the approach we need to take is also fundamentally different.
So, my question to you all is this: What do you mean when you use the word “inquiry?” When you talk about PBL, Design Thinking, Guided Inquiry, or Inquiry Based Learning, what do YOU mean? When you tell me that you’re doing an inquiry unit, or your kids are “doing inquiry,” what are you telling me? Please don’t copy and paste others’ definitions unless they are truly what you work from. I’m curious to know. I want to make sure that I’m having the same conversation. Thanks in advance!