Sunday, July 3, 2016

Finding Themes (EDT 598 Reflection)

One of the first assignments for EDT 598 in exploring the Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) model was to come up with 20 "I wonder..." questions, questions about things we were curious about or want to learn about. After completing the “Ask” stage, it is time to move on to the “Discover” stage, where we combine our ideas with the ideas of everyone else to identify common themes that could be delved into further.

I was feeling overwhelmed about trying to identify two overarching themes out of 280 “I wonder…” questions, so I decided to begin with just my own. I used Google Drawings to help organize my thoughts, because it is a simple tool for creating and moving text boxes and adding colors and other elements to help keep things organized. The canvas is also easily expandable so that I can spread my work if I need to. Here are my 20 “I wonder…” questions, unorganized.

Okay. I can do this. I think...

From there, I began identifying my first themes. Here is my first pass.

As you’ll notice, I’ve already violated the “two theme” rule, and I have a question that I wasn’t really able to categorize. And these are just my questions! Whoooo boy.

Rather than continue on recategorizing my questions, I decided to begin integrating in everyone else’s questions.

There were a number of questions that were similar across a number of people, so I did my best to rephrase them to capture the spirit of the original questions. For instance, there was a question about defeating terrorism and a question about getting along with each other. I combined those questions and rephrased to “How can we stop killing each other?”

It was also here that I realized that a number of people had questions about their families, or other personal experiences that could not really be shared across the entire class. I decided at this point that, given the number of questions to sort through, that I would eliminate these questions from consideration. Nothing personal, though!
This was only about a third of the way through.  Yikes!

After looking through the third set of questions, I also realized that I needed to begin combining sub-themes into larger themes. It seemed for awhile like every other question I was creating a new theme, so I needed to begin making this more manageable. So, for instance, a number of questions that I saw were related to learning about technology, or wondering how to keep up with technological advancements. I decided that those could be merged under the DIY/Self-Learning theme.

It was also becoming obvious that numerous questions could have been placed into multiple categories. For now, I decided to point arrows from those questions where I filed them, and to the categories that they could have also been filed under.
Trying to fit multi-faceted ideas into a linear sequence is a lot like trying to run a square peg through a round hole.  And yet, I keep trying to do it.

Finally, I got through all of the questions that everyone in the class posed. That took forever! As I went through, I saw some new themes that arose, as well as themes that needed to be renamed or broken apart. After a review of the questions I collected, further consolidation of similar questions, and one last check to see if I had room for any of the growing mountain of uncategorized questions, I made it up to here.
Totally readable, right?

Ugh! I still have more themes than I did before. Time to rethink things a little.

I tend to visualize things in a very linear manner, as I’m sure you could tell from my earlier screenshots. Now, however, I wanted to try to use my space a little differently to group common themes and topics together to get a better idea of how they relate. I also wanted to begin reimagining the different questions as topics, another strategy for grouping to try to make this whole thing a little more manageable.

And it worked! By moving themes around, changing questions into topics, reclassifying topics, and using proximity to discover similarities between themes, I was finally able to narrow down to two themes. For instance, many of the Tech PD topics could’ve been moved to either the Sustainable Technology sub-theme or the Teachers as Learners sub-theme, but by using a more visual approach, I was able to place them in between the two sub-themes, which is probably where they belong. I was also able to consolidate the IBL/PBL topics into a single topic, which became a part of the “New Approaches” sub-theme (formerly the “Schools of Tomorrow” sub-theme). Speaking of, I thought that name was appropriate for the root-level theme, so everything I’ve just discussed now encompasses a single theme of “Schools of Tomorrow.” The “What Does the Future Hold” and “Making a Better World” themes were also ripe for merger, and I was able to create a second root-level theme of “Making a Better Future.”

That left the Work/Life Balance theme. As it turned out, I discovered that many of my topics here fit in very well somewhere in my other two themes. So, it seemed natural that this theme be the last one to cut. I moved a few more things around, and, voila! My two themes are "Schools of Tomorrow" and "Making a Better Future!"

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