A few weeks ago I attended a 3-day training workshop in St. Louis, put on by the POGIL project. I attended a short POGIL session at the SIGCSE CS education conference in March and was sufficiently impressed to sign up for a training workshop (it didn’t hurt that Clif Kussmaul has an NSF grant that paid for my registration and travel).
POGIL is an acronym for “Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning”. Process-oriented refers to the fact that in addition to learning content, an explicit goal is for students to learn process skills like analytic thinking, communication, and teamwork. Guided inquiry refers to the fact that students are responsible for constructing their own knowledge, guided by carefully designed questions. The entire framework is really well thought-out and is informed by concrete research in pedagogical methods. I really enjoyed how the workshop used the POGIL method to teach us about POGIL (though of course it would be rather suspect to do anything else!). It gave me not just an intellectual appreciation for the benefits of the approach, but also a concrete understanding of the POGIL experience for a student.
The basic idea is to put students in groups of 3 or 4 and have them work through an activity or set of questions together. So far this sounds just like standard “group work”, but it’s much more carefully thought out than that:
Each student is assigned a role with specific responsibilities within their group. Roles typically rotate from day to day so each student gets a chance to play each role. Roles can vary but common ones include things like “manager”, “recorder”, “reporter”, and so on. I didn’t appreciate how important the roles are until attending the workshop, but they are really crucial. They help ensure every student is engaged, forestall some of the otherwise inevitable social awkwardness as students figure out how to relate to their group members, and also play an important part in helping students develop process skills.
The activities are carefully constructed to take students through one or more learning cycles: beginning with some data, diagrams, text, etc. (a “model”), students are guided through a process starting with simple observations, then synthesis and discovering underlying concepts, and finally more open ended/application questions.
The teacher is a facilitator: giving aid and suggestions as needed, managing dificulties that arise, giving space and time for groups to report on their progress and share with other groups, and so on. Of course, a lot of work goes into constructing the activities themselves.
In some areas, there is already a wealth of POGIL activities to choose from; unfortunately, existing materials are a bit thinner in CS (though there is a growing collection). I won’t be able to use POGIL much this coming semester, but I hope to use it quite a bit when I teach algorithms again in the spring.