Five Strategies to Promote Inquiry-Based Learning in an Online Classroom

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

COVID-19 may have grounded both teachers and students. However, learning never stops, so why should we? As teaching moves to the online platform, we at Callido would like to share five strategies to ensure that inquiry-based learning continues in your online classroom.

Maintain high levels of curiosity and engagement

Curiosity is what moves students into the realm of critical thinking. Encouraging students to explore a topic that has high discovery ensures engagement. While designing products, we have seen the most success with modules that begin with an inquisitive question, engineered to provoke a high sense of discovery (Example: True or False: The entire population of the world can fit into the state of Texas. Psst… that is actually true!) When high discovery hooks like this one are followed by a really engaging question or prompt, it makes students want to truly investigate a problem and commit to finding a solution.

This style of inquiry-based learning is successful in a classroom, but can continue just as easily online. (Think information scavenger hunts, logic puzzles, believe-it-or-not hooks and more!)

Assign projects that require students to do research

Research projects, by nature, are exciting. When students are captivated enough by an unanswered question, they engage actively with the content they need to find, they learn and work at their own pace, which is usually quite fast; and they acquire and demonstrate information literacy skills. Sure, field research may not be an option with the current outbreak, but information to help answer the question you have posed to them should be found by conducting research online.

This little guide should help students find information effectively.

Make use of self-pacing and differentiated materials to accommodate all learners

Unlike a classroom, where a teacher may not have sufficient time to adapt the pace of the lesson to accomodate all learners, an online classroom allows for self-pacing for students and for customizing support materials.

Group students with similar learning styles and provide differentiated instructions to each of the groups. Homework assignments and student output can look entirely different and a lot more exciting to do than the usual writing tasks. (For example: Find an infographic that explains the difference between biomes, to share with the rest of the class tomorrow. Write down at least 2 questions you still have about biomes.)

Design formatives or games in the forms of trivia or quizzes that are both higher-order and multiple choice

Yes, it is possible to create online quizzes that are secretly higher-order but look like multiple choice questions.

Aim for questions that go beyond recall and actually test higher order thinking skills such as evaluation and synthesis within the subject.

We’ve learned a few ways to do this when designing our assessment tool Caliber (for example: interpreting charts or graphs accurately in order to choose the right option, picking the most accurate or representative analogy to a given problem, solution, or literary context).

Include silly mistakes/popular wrong answers as distractor options in the questions so students learn not to fall for these. Once you have a list of these questions, you can assign them as formatives; or to make it less stressful, you can create a trivia deck and even use some of the questions as a poll in the online classroom. The options are endless.

Let students make choices

Allowing students to choose projects or topics within the unit, ensures engagement and high quality of student output. Most importantly, students feel they are an actual part of the course when they are allowed to make certain decisions. While this may not be the easiest practice to adopt, I highly encourage offering choices, wherever possible.

Additional Tip: Rewards are much easier to hand in-person than online. However, in these tough times, even small measures go a long way. Come up with your own special virtual reward; one that is unique to your online classroom: A virtual high five routine! A “Wakanda”-like greeting, or a Hall of Fame slide in your teaching deck with special awards for all students.

Additionally, you can make full use of our game-based skills activities as a reward for the whole class. These work just as well online as they do in the classroom.

Here is one activity for you to try out: Strange Phenomena!

Lastly, our most important tip to you, the teacher, is to not forget to take care of yourself. Seeing their teacher happy, healthy, and calm can do wonders for students’ well-being.

Akriti Macker is the Curriculum Head at Callido Learning. Her background is in curriculum design, teaching, children’s programming, and child psychology.

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