IBL vs Presentations

Here is what I learned about Inquiry-Base Learning (IBL) this summer. This is something that I probably should have learned a couple of years ago, but I didn’t. Also, I have heard this misconception from several people, so I do not think I am the only one.

It seems that a lot of people (including me) incorrectly think that student presentations are the main point of IBL.

I figured out that this was a misconception when I heard some other people talk about how they do IBL in their courses. I spoke to several people this summer who said that, while they couldn’t do pure IBL in a class for whatever reason, they did IBL one day a week.

A common model has been: student read proofs out of the textbook, and they present on those proofs in class on that one IBL day.

This didn’t sit well with me. I want to have a “big tent,” but I also want to preserve the integrity of the term IBL (I do not object to this teaching practice—I think it could be very useful. But I don’t think I want it called “IBL”).

I compared this model to my favorite definitions of IBL. Dana Ernst thinks that the two essential elements of IBL are that students should be both primarily responsible for guiding the acquisition of knowledge and primarily responsible for validating the ideas presented. The model above fails on both of these elements: the students were not guiding the acquisition of knowledge (they were told what theorems to look at, and they did not do any of the work to prove the theorem) and they did not validate the idea; the fact that it was listed in a textbook is already a pretty good validation. (This practice does not do any better under TJ Hitchman‘s definition).

So I was feeling pretty smug about my realization. At least, I was feeling smug until I remembered the paper I had just submitted about my Fall 2012 Calculus I class. It described the way I blended Peer Instruction and IBL into the course, and it reported how students’ conceptual understanding improved during the semester.

The problem is that my “IBL” portion of the class was little more than student presentations—it did not meet the IBL criteria that Dana and TJ described. In fact, I recognized that there was a problem part way through my class, but I did not understand that the problem was that I was not even doing IBL.

Fortunately, my paper was deemed “off-topic” for the special issue, and I was invited to re-submit the paper to the regular journal. This gave me time to fix the claims that I was doing IBL.

One last embarrassing note: I am planning my 2013-2014 classes right now, and they are mostly IBL courses. However, I was having trouble finding the right IBL format; I was building my courses around student presentations, and that did not seem quite right. Fortunately, I spoke to my colleague Anne Sinko (who attended the IBL Workshop in June), and she said something that gave me permission to let go of the focus on presentations.

One final note: I think that student presentations can be an important part of a good IBL course, and they will definitely be used in my courses this year. But they will not necessarily be the focus of the course, and they are not sufficient to be IBL.

So I apparently have difficulty letting go of the idea that IBL is basically synonymous with “student presentations.” I hope that writing this post helps rid me of the misconception.

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12 Responses to “IBL vs Presentations”

  1. Dana Ernst Says:

    Great post! One of the things that I regret not emphasizing in my Personality Matters? post over on Math Ed Matters is that student presentations and group work act as vehicles for IBL. Yet, as you said, student presentations and group do not imply IBL. It all depends on what is happening during these activities.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      You could have saved me so much trouble if you had written that!

      Just kidding. A lot of people, probably including you, have told me that before. But I just somehow needed a lot of time for it to actually sink in. Bret

      On Fri, Aug 9, 2013 at 3:51 PM, Solvable by Radicals

  2. Dana Ernst Says:

    By the way, I just went to select this post as an Editor’s Pick for MathBlogging.org, but was surprised that your blog wasn’t listed. I just added it, but it’ll take a while to show up.

  3. Dana Ernst Says:

    Oh, I meant to ask what is was that Anne said to you. Tell her that I say, “hello.”

  4. TJ Says:

    Right On! The point is changing focus on the students “making sense of things on their own terms.”

    I feel your warning should also be shouted at people who are considering a flipped classroom. Sure you can video mini-lectures, but what change are you making to the mathematical activities that the students are required to do?

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Oh, boy. Don’t get me started on “flipped classroom equals videos.” People on my campus have been talking about flipped classrooms a bit this past year, and I have been doing my best to stamp this idea out. Pedagogy before technology, people.

      Of course, the point of this post is that I was one of those people, only for IBL instead of flipped classrooms.

      Thanks for the analogy! Bret

      On Fri, Aug 9, 2013 at 5:26 PM, Solvable by Radicals

    • Dana Ernst Says:

      TJ, great point about “videos are flipped classrooms.”

  5. Matthew G Jones (@mattguitarj) Says:

    Good post Bret. I used IBL for a long time and only much later came across the idea of presentations as a central component. Before that, presentations were very informal sharing opportunities based on work that groups had done. Now, I use group work and individual presentations as two ingredients in my IBL, and I have different quantities of them in different classes.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      The weird things is: I had a similar route to IBL. The problem is that I did not know that I was using IBL. This might be part of my confusion: I figured that IBL was something different from what I as doing; the most noticeable difference was student presentations; ergo, IBL is about student presentations.

      Thanks for helping me understand that!

  6. Again, a new IBL-Peer Instruction Hybrid Model | Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] part of the semester: Students do something that resembles (but isn’t actually) […]

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