Toolkits for Inquiry

What happens, then, is that each individual develops a certain repertoire of process capabilities from which he selects and adapts those that will compose the processes that he executes. This repertoire is like a tool kit, and just as the mechanic must know what his tools can do and how to use them, so the intellectual worker must know the capabilities of his tools and have good methods, strategies, and rules of thumb for making use of them.

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework by Douglas C. Engelbart, October 1962


We now have tools to help us imagine the real, create the imagined, explore in a simulated space, practice taking risks with ideas, think out loud and connect with other learners.  Those tools help us collaborate and exchange ideas, through multiple media formats and contexts.

The ability to share our imaginings in real time with more than text — music, image, symbols, speech, and especially video — with such ease was the goal, my own “dream machine”. And we’re here! We can make our thinking visible with tools that change handwritten notes to standard typeface. We can write mathematics with a “pen” and watch the equation change to a dynamic graph that adjusts as you change values. We can talk about an idea and automate the reformatting of the speech to text, and then share both media for collaboration with others. We can create and post our own video! We can imagine and learn, together, across physical space. Of course we must have individual study, focused thinking about an idea we’re learning about, and tools to support our study. But  the “collective IQ” created by collaboration extends and deepens understanding. It’s definitely worth the effort.

I’ve been fascinated by the evolution of tools that support thinking since 1981. I began my study then, using code and key punch cards to interact with a computer. Calculators changed the way we learned – and I taught – mathematics. By 1991 I was creating a computer lab for students and teachers – the first in the school.  Students learned to create digital books together. Desktop publishing was the new tool for writing because students could add images and text together on the screen rather than paper. The ability to type and edit simultaneously made all the difference, especially to those learners not keen on spelling and grammar rules. A decade later, students and teachers were communicating in online courses, sending assignments as digital files by email. They had just-in-time access to libraries to support their studies. And easy communication with their professors when questions emerged about their study. Reformatting print into digital media created access to our shared knowledge base. Websites became our classrooms and libraries. Connected communities of inquiry and practice emerged, eliminating boundaries around courses.

Compstudentsuters as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking by David H. Jonassen, Chad Carr, Hsiu-Ping Yueh, TechTrends, v43 n2 p24-32 Mar 1998. Mindtools is another term for tools that support intellectual work and is part of my continued inquiry project. Now we have apps, touch screens, and the cloud! As we continue to reshape the tools we need to support our intellectual work, the reality of a connected, networked, distributed space with access to whatever you are curious to learn is still amazing to me.
My toolkit examples — Workflowy, Gliffy, WordPress, CamtasiaTweetDeck, … help me continue my inquiry project — finding ways to create effective learning spaces. As much as I still love the feel of pen and paper when I create, I am intrigued by the [unexpected, extraordinary, surprising, unconventional, … ?] possibilities our expanding toolkit will provide.