Model-Based Inquiry

Schmience Evolving

My readings have given me some great insight into how to structure the program. I recall Beakman reading “why is the sky blue” sorts of questions from his viewers, and as much as I recoil from the revelation from authority and lack of any discovery process in that format, it still was somehow resident in my conceptualization.

Paul Zaloom as Beakman

I wanted to seek questions from the community. But looking at some of the critiques of the scientific method (TSM) and TSM teaching espeicllay, and at the movement toward a model-based scientific inquiry model, I realized that more of what I want to do is to ask the audience about their models, ask them to look for holes in their concepts and understandings of how the world works, not just share moments of curiosity.

I had this vivid recollection of Jerry Macfay, an amazing kid with autism I used to work with, who was trying to make sense of why he was the only kid who never caught a fish during our week at summer camp. The model he eventually constructed to make meaning of this, was that the fish had weirdness radar and could detect that he was weird and so avoided him. With a kid like Jerry, there was no point in trying to use this to scaffold some sort of understanding of the scientific process, but I was able to understand that the question, “how come I never catch any fish when the other kids do?” which might be interesting enough to try and answer, was just the tip of the iceberg of inquiry. The real grist for this mill was the model he had constructed that was a portal into his narrow and socially difficult world. We might devise all sorts of experiments around how to catch a fish from his question: what bait, what tackle and so on, but if we were to address the model he had constructed instead, I realize that this could allow him to see the universe in a much more realistic and comprehensive way. This model-based approach would lead us to much more interesting questions like: do fish care about who fishes for them? What do fish know? Is weirdness repulsive? These questions would be vastly more helpful to Jerry in developing a rich and successfully predictive model of his world, and even more so, of finding meaning in that world. So my approach to Schmience has shifted radically and profoundly, as I work to re-imagine the project from this model-based inquiry perspective.

The other way my notions of all this have been challenged is in my relationship to content types. I have been frustrated from the beginning of this program with the emphasis on video and “rich media content.” As an advanced learner, and what else should we expect in an MS program, I have been frustrated with the linear nature of most of this content. I have wanted to tear my hair out more than once trying review a Wimba session where I   I was told that I could find some missed detail of a particular assignment. I felt I had wasted hours finding something that I could have found in seconds from a bulleted list in the syllabus. I have sat through too many videos whose content could be distilled into a short paragraph, but that was instead buried in 5 minutes of gosh and golly images and music. But I finally got it, or at least got what it could be, when I got a simple bit of spam from  Survey Gizmo. They sent me a “question of the week” off of someone’s survey, and it was: how would you prefer educational content delivered: 1. Text, 2. Text and images 3. Video  4. Video and images or  5. Video and text.

The results were something like 60% for video and images and 25% for video and text. I realized that the point was engagement. I can hand a card with clear and well-written instructions to someone, but if they are not motivated to read it, it might as well be blank. Video on the other hand is inherently engaging for most modern folk, it requires almost zero effort to take in, and lends itself to story structure with set ups payoffs and climaxes, as well as being sensory diverse and so may form more durable memories. As frustrating as this cluttering of essential content may be for someone like myself, the ability of rich media to reach out and capture someone who may not even be interested in learning, is powerful.

So for my program the text only site I built when I started this, is almost completely useless for the actual target audience of the program, although I made that site to solicit support from science and education colleagues. So I am now working on way to poll my audience, not about their questions, but about their models of how things work, and not via polls but via cartoons. I am thinking of going back to all the animation tools I looked at, like Xtranormal, Goanimate, Animoto, Doink and all the rest, and making a whole series of videos that demonstrate various models of the world that may have some holes in them, and asking my audience to poke at the holes. This poking may unearth much better material for us to tackle in the TV show, as well as making for a much richer and more engaging web dialogue.

In my third revelation this month, at least regarding this project, came after my nephew suggested I watch the first episode of a new BBC America series called “The Hours”, about the formation of a breakthough investigative journalism TV show in the late 50’s in London.

While not completely obvious or literal, the connections to what I want to do here, are compelling for a number of reasons I won’t enumerate. But my biggest take away from that show, was that I need a team. However sweeping my own insights might seem, however creative or innovative I may think the project is, I am just me. Often trapped in loops of my own reflections and certainly not nearly as smart as 3 or 4 much less smart people are when joined together, I know that despite my social ineptitude and weirdness, which is not that unlike that of my little friend Jerry Macfay, the key will be to find a group of collaborators. It was Carl’s single comment to this blog about inquiry that set me off into that rich vein, and that is just the tip of that iceberg.


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