Transitioning to Phase III

As I noted in a previous post, the schedule calls for a transition into Phase III sometime next week.  If you’re a bit behind schedule, that’s okay.  I am too.

That said, it’s in your student’s best interest to make the transition as soon as possible.  Do not fall into the trap of curtailing Phase III for the sake of content you had hopes to cover in Phase II.  This time belongs to your students.

The intent behind Phase III is making sure each student is ready for the final phase of the course.  In a room with 21 students you’ll always have some that’ll ride the coat tails of their peers.  You’re not shocked by this revelation, I’m sure.

Now is the time to gently expose this “lack of preparedness” while there’s still time to fix it.  In this phase you are asking key questions:

  • Do they know how to ask effective questions?
  • Do they present their ideas well (in written and spoken form)?
  • Do students understand what it means to look at the problem from multiple perspectives?
  • Do they understand issue mapping?

We’re not saying “ignore the students who are doing well,” but we are suggesting that you find creative ways to intervene with the students who are not.

I will propose to my class that they break into small working groups – three or four to a group.  Each member of the team will do their own work – they will each practice inquiry and do so on their own guiding questions.

No, mine don’t have their questions as of this writing, and that’s the point.  A lesson from last year is that this process takes longer than we think, and that we should get them started as soon as possible. I intend to dispense with any notion of working their personal questions in parallel to a generic “wicked problem” and use Phase III fully toward this end.  And in doing so I am going to blur the line between Phase III and Phase IV.

I contend that by following the process of inquiry (with its tools, i.e.: issue mapping) they will more quickly turn their vague notions into workable lines of inquiry that will result in good guiding questions).

If my seminars agree to this strategy, I’ll ask them to look at their social contract to ensure that the three or four participants understand expectations and ground rules. They will not be accountable for any project but their own, but they should commit to helping each other through this rigorous process.

I envision the team working together both in and out of seminar.  I see them coming and going as necessary to work their projects, including hitting the library and doing off-site work when needed.

We’ll need accountability measures for this to protect the more disciplined members of the team from the, shall we say, less disciplined members of the team.  This effort will also help me identify who needs extra coaching.  (A word of caution: don’t assume it’ll be the quiet ones that need the extra help!)

I see this effort going for about two weeks.

When their products and research mature to a reasonable level, I’ll invite (a polite way of saying assign) them to present their work for the entire seminar’s benefit.  Note that I say their work, not their products.  I do not want them presenting their finished product for a briefing.  They will engage in a self-explanatory effort.  (See the blog post on inquiry activities).

This shift will constitute the beginning of Phase IV – it’ll start around November 7th.  (This will also be the tentative due date on formal paper two.)

Of all the things I’ve asked them to do, I expect this will be the hardest. They will be teaching and learning through their explication.  They will need to detail all of their choices – what they chose to include to not include, and why. They will have to be cognizant of all their steps so the group sees the development of their ideas, not merely the end result.

To do it right we’ll need people fully willing to make themselves vulnerable; we will need an environment of complete trust.

It’s also not a project we can rush. If someone is struggling, we cannot say “sorry, but we must stick to the schedule”.  I am allotting 15-minutes per student and I worry it won’t be enough.  (If it looks like we can curtail their small group work in Phase III to buy time for this, we will.)

These student-led workshops will lead right up to Thanksgiving break, meaning that each student must be responsible to improve their own thinking and develop their own products in time for the campus wide poster session.  I and their small groups can be a resource in this effort, but a best case scenario is that everyone is satisfied with their work before they leave campus.

One last thought…timely reminders about the knowledge economy and the reason we are inculcating this inquiry mindset matter!  You will always do well to tangibly associate these activities and their actions with the development of key critical thinking strategies, complex solving competencies, and the need to develop and share insights in a globalized society.

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2 Comments

  1. I want to share my approach to the guiding question for your consideration.

    One of the most challenging aspects of FYS and the guiding question is for students (and often instructors) to let go of “the need of knowing” and allow themselves to explore the possibilities through inquiry. My students are exploring their guiding question through an exercise that provides a greater view of their lives. The exercise allows students to explore a purpose for their education beyond acquiring their degree. Using experiences, academics, the job or career they will be pursuing, and their life interests, they are seeking relationships that will connect their path with a social issue they could be close to because of their academic achievements.

    The exercise begins with a list under each column: experiences, academics, job/career, and life interests. The students explore the connections between elements listed on each column. This correlation is explained in a statement. From this statement a question emerges, the guiding question. It is possible not to have all the answers and connections clear, which is a great chance for exploration of possibilities. I encourage the students to see the guiding question as an equation in which they have some known and some unknown variables. By separating the variables new opportunities of exploration emerge. It is not about knowing all the answers, but asking questions.

    The exploration of the guiding question leads to the identification of the issue (the QFocus) that will be explored through questions in natural sciences, social sciences, art, and humanities. The guiding question will them be seen through the Why, What if, and How questions. “Why” will explain what makes the issue and issue. “What if” is an attempt to see a preferred scenario of the future in which the issue is solved. “How” helps develop a plan to reach from “Why” to “What if”. This part helps develop a personal success plan (PSP) that is indeed a personal quest.

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