How does inquiry-based education work when learners are distributed and asynchronous?

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I’ve just wrapped up week 1 of my first MOOC experience, Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for Your Classroomtaught by MoMA educator Lisa Mazzola on Coursera. (It is still open and I encourage you to join! It’s not too late. If you’re not entirely sure what a MOOC is, see this helpful explanation of a Massive Open Online Course from Educause.)

[Note: If you are participating in the course, you can find this same post in the Coursera forum. Would love for you to respond there.]

As a museum professional who specializes in digital engagement and a museum studies professor, I come to this course with several layers of questions related to inquiry-based learning and how it intersects with online platforms:

What are the best practices for inquiry-based learning in art museums?

After nearly a decade in a national history museum, I am fairly new to art museums and how they engage learners with works of art, as opposed to other kinds of museum objects.

What aspects of inquiry-based education translate well to digital spaces?

Should I change my approach as an educator for formal online education experiences (e.g., online university courses) vs. informal learning experiences (e.g., social media)? My professional speciality is digital outreach and engagement for museums and other nonprofits, with an emphasis on both learning and marketing outcomes. I am also an adjunct professor for the Johns Hopkins University museum studies program, which involves teaching entirely online. I’m curious to explore further how the context of the learner impacts the effectiveness of inquiry-based education . . . for example, does a Twitter follower get as much out of inquiry as a formal student?

What are the challenges that educators face in using inquiry-based methods online to engage learners that are not in the same room and are not participating at the same time?

In teaching online graduate courses, I have found the asynchronous nature makes the process of constructing knowledge together as a group more difficult than I experienced when teaching graduate students in a physical classroom.

How does observing an object digitally change the experience of observation for the learner?

How does being online affect some of the other aspects of inquiry-based learning, such as communicating with a group about one’s ideas and interpretation? As someone who designs digital museum experiences, I am especially interested in outreach projects for audiences who cannot come and see museum collections in person. How does this change the way I structure an inquiry-based experience?

How does a MOOC really work?

I’ve been reading about them for months but this is my first personal experience as a student in a MOOC.

Should museums be using MOOCs as an educational platform?

And for what audiences (e.g., adults, teens, teacher professional development, homeschool audiences)? Part of my role at a national art museum is to figure out how to leverage our expertise and resources for maximum impact. I am curious about how museum educators can bring something unique to the MOOC space and am excited to learn from the model MoMA is presenting here.

So far I have found the readings and lecture video to be quite good at addressing the first question (how can inquiry-based education work in a physical location). I highly recommend Laurel Schmidt’s “Great Teachers Don’t Take No (or Yes) for an Answer: Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling” and John Hennigar Shuh’s “Teaching Yourself to Teach With Objects” (I was able to read both in the course of two metro rides).

I look forward to noodling over some of my other burning questions with other Coursera students as we learn by doing, digitally.

Note: You can follow some of the discussion about the MOOC on Twitter using the hashtag #artinquiry.

What are your thoughts on how inquiry-based learning translates to online learning? Does it matter if the learners think of themselves as such (e.g., part of a formal class environment) or not (e.g., simply following an educational institution on social media)?

Image credit: Network visualization by Flickr user yaph