INQUIRY PROJECT georgiana Morison 2016

Research and Community informed Practice CISC8001

"Education is not simply to develop engaged students, but rather to develop engaged human beings” (Scatliff & Meier, 2012, p18).


Trends in contemporary education theories promote skills and processes that foster criticality, creativity, communication and collaboration, alongside, written, visual and technical and numeracy literacies. These skills are said to prepare people for active citizenship –as participants and contributors - for highly competitive technological global societies and economies and equip learners for ‘life long’ learning.

This inquiry project responds to:

  • National and international education policies that require higher level education providers to be responsive to 21st Century global trends in education.
  • Education theories for 21st Century learning and teaching practices


The context of this project inquiry sits with a College of Creative Arts, in a University and investigates how collaboration in a critical inquiry project might enhance student engagement.


Student engagement and participation will increase in a Critical Inquiry project when students have the option to work in groups, where collaborative practices are employed.

Collaboration:: Rules for Engagement

Collaborative practices are considered transformational. Research indicates motivation, engagement, and participation are sustained when projects, teaching and learning environments and methods are collaborative.

Agency, and individual and group efficacy are promoted as collaborative practices encourage students to be active in their own learning, foster independence and interdependence through setting topics, goal and task setting.

Integration of digital and collaborative learning environments - networked communications, global flow of information, ease of access, global interactions

Knowledge and learning is understood as a social process; collaborations relies upon reciprocity, knowledge is constructed through interactions with others and through consensus decision-making.

Collaborations develop understandings of learning as a process and knowledge as constantly reforming.

Collaboration engages modes of narrative story-telling and is responsive to the diverse community of learners, their: different styles of learning, mindsets, and identities and personalities.

Collaboration is culturally responsive – to Kaupapa Maori and Oceanic/Pacifika peoples practices, processes and knowledge’s (see: Bishop, 2003; Thaman, 2003).

Collaboration positions the educator as facilitator (vs directive instructor) and responsible for ensuring the conditions for collaboration are established and maintained.

As a process it builds things like personal and relationship skills, agency, citizenship and social responsibility

Background Research

Prior to teaching in the formal education sector I worked in community based education. I belonged to a collective which worked with the principles of collaboration. Consensus decision-making and critical reflection were an integral aspect of the learning and teaching process. I am particularly drawn to examining how current literature on pedagogy makes sense of collaboration in formal higher level education contexts.

I learnt the value of experiential learning and active involvement. Participation through the exchange of the personal - past and present - knowledge fostered feelings of inclusion and validation. I learned that being challenged can be ground breaking for a reformulating of thinking, attitudes and levels of awareness. I found personal engagement was effortless because collaboration made for dynamic and engaging interactions between participants which was both energising and draining all at once.

CoCA + Critical & Contextual Studies :: Te Ao Hurihuri

In 2016 Critical and Contextual Studies looked to some major shifts in the delivery and content of CCS first year papers. Responsive to changing trends in education we considered how we might incorporate digital and collaborative learning into the paper.

Mindlab:: Digital & Collaborative Learning

As the person charged with co-ordination of the paper I also took on academic development. I was highly motivated by the challenge and realised I needed to broaden my own understanding of the use of technologies in education and confidently justify their pedagogical value in a CCS paper.

Reflections on 1st Iteration of Te Ao Hurihuri

Te Ao HuriHuri (2016) a critical inquiry project asked students to consider real world issues or concerns and select one they felt passionate about, were interested in, and/or committed to that would sustain them over a research period of four weeks. Students had to demonstrate critical and contextual understanding by applying analytical tools and concepts they had learned earlier in the paper to broaden their knowledge of the specific issues, consider social responsibility, activism, visual thinking, community, and citizenship. They worked individually and produced written and creative work (in any media including performance).

This project embraced digital learning in its uses of blog posting and the G+Community, Students were active participants in the G+ Community demonstrating a very productive Community of Learning with very good levels of sharing of resources, critical exchange and feedback on their topic, creative production, reflection, and presentations of artist or design statements that accompanied their final creative work.

This project had some very real strengths in terms of meeting the 4 x 'Cs', the specific needs of the student cohort enrolled in Creative Arts practices; students who were independent learners; educators committed to issues of citizenship and agency; graduate attributes; making explicit the links between creative production and critical and contextual thinking.

However, this project only went someway towards 'true' collaboration. Reflecting on its successes and failures it is clear that it is a project that might be developed very easily to offer students options for working individually, and/or collaboratively.

Some of areas of concern that drive this inquiry plan are:

  • Oceanic/Pacific students were our highest drop off of students in this paper.
  • Limited engagement and very low achievement levels for a group of students (while also some very high levels of achievement)

Reflections and evaluations suggest student engagement and participation may be enhanced by:

  • directive instruction
  • working in collaboration with others
  • framing of the project through culturally specific issues
  • exemplars that provide some modelling of engaged outputs



What do educators and learners understand by collaboration and what experiences have they had with collaborative processes?

Focus Groups

This project considers two focus groups

Introduction: Literature I have encountered proposes that collaboration is often misunderstood and very often the practices are conflated with group work and cooperative processes which involve directed instruction from the educator. Project design and methods of instruction need to provide some options for a more ‘true’ form of collaboration.

For successful Collaboration to occur educators and students need to understand the principles of collaboration.

Problem: Many educators and students will have experienced and be well disciplined into 20th Century industrial modes of teaching and learning.


  • Have understanding and experience of collaborative processes.
  • Understand their role as facilitators in this process.
  • Understand digital technologies as platforms through which collaborations can occur. For example online platforms such as the G+Community support the notion of learning communities (global), that build around a rich flow of knowledge and communication in networked environments. These environments have been important to ways of thinking, communicating and working with others.


Students who have opted into a group collaboration also need to develop an understanding of what collaboration is and develop confidence in it as an effective process for constructing knowledge and learning.

Preparation for Collaboration:: Working With Facilitator and Student Groups

Establish various stakeholders understanding and experiences of collaboration.

Explore the benefits of knowledge and learning constructed through the collaboration processes.

Allay anxieties, about such things as consensus decision-making as it often involves greater time, patience, trust and commitment. Research indicates that the knowledge constructed and learning gained is invariably more substanstantive than other forms of instructional learning.

Run workshops where collaboration is modelled so that the benefits of experiential learning can then be utilised by tutors in their role facilitating students in collaboration groups.

Utilise and share readings that support the principles of collaboration – see reference list below.


The aims of this inquiry are to establish if student engagement and participation is increased in a modified version of the Critical Inquiry Project Te Ao Hurihuri. This project will offer students options to work individually or in a small group collaboration.

This inquiry considers notions of a community of practice as a site of learning where people come together through shared practices, so involves not just the dispersal and sharing of knowledge and information but also the gathering of information, data, ideas and experiences from students and tutors in order to expose problems, allay anxieties, examine underlying assumptions, and to consider revisions or a reformulation of the overall project in an effort to enhance student enthusiasm and motivation.

Methods for evidence gathering

This is set out considering established formal processes required by the institution as well as more informal approaches where facilitators can feedback throughout the time of the projects running. Some evidence will be gathered at different points towards the end of the project, and following grading, and moderation, and consultations and feedback just prior to the paper administration closing.

Evaluation Design

  • Design of feedback systems needs to be considered in terms of prompts, closed and open questions, reflections and formal surveys.
  • Weekly opportunities for tutorial staff to reflect with others on their facilitation skills, as well as how they are finding their collaboration groups responding to the project and process, and talking through with others how they might respond to issues that have arisen.
  • Who are the key stakeholders

Learners: Formal and Informal Evaluations, Feedback and Reflections

Student responses are invaluable and their feedback is a key indicator for evaluating the project in line with their experience and engagement.

Learners will be required to complete as part of the project group individual reflections of their learning including:

  • identifying problems and dilemmas they found with project and processes;
  • suggestions for us to consider about how they think the paper might be modified
  • how they might apply their learning to other areas of their study
  • reflect on weekly discussions held by the group about their process
  • informal discussions in tutorials - what transpires from tacit to explicit knowledge
  • formal university paper evaluation- institutional requirement


  • Assessment results
  • Retention statistics
  • Formal university paper evaluation survey results

Assessment and Moderation

Assessment results are used as a formal indicator of student engagement

  • Bench-markingGrading
  • Moderation and Cross moderation processes (2017 across 18 tutorial groups): comparing group with group, group project with individual project
  • External moderation

Inquiring into Practice: Educator /Tutor Evaluations and Reflections

Methods for evaluating the project in terms of student engagement and participation will consider:

  • Firsthand experience and observations of learner activity
  • Discussion – moving from tacit to explicit knowledge about own encounters with the collaborative process including the critical reflections about their facilitation role
  • Critical Reflections ¬– comparing approaches, learning from each other teaching/facilitation practice
  • Sharing tutorial feedback from students – compare across student cohort

Inquiring Community

Extended research inquiry by consulting with colleagues including:

Educators from different parts of CoCA, academic advisors, Library educators, Centre for Teaching and Learning, Kaupapa Maori and Oceanic/Pacifika advisors and akonga support, researchers as well as critical friends.

Community Consultation

Consultation processes with different stakeholders ensures the projects success in terms of ensuring the mechanisms of support are in place, cultural responsiveness and appropriateness, and ensuring that project meets institutional goals and policies.

Consultation with Maori and Oceanic/Pacific advisors and support in terms of best practice; monitoring how the specific community of students they are responsible to are managing with the collaboration group and process; a final evaluation following completion would also occur.

Bishop (2003), Smith (1997), Thaman (2003), Stefani, (2015) and others argue that increasing student engagement in educational contexts need to actively integrate indigenous knowledge, principles and values - most specifically embrace Kaupapa Maori principles. Roberts (2012) discussion on ‘whakapapa and Bishops (2003) ideas on fostering whanau type relationships are helpful here.

Educator Developer and Academic Advisor in the College for meeting strategic goals and plans around policy, student learning and student retention.

Modification of Critical Inquiry Project (2017)

Te Ao Hurihuri Critical Inquiry Project (2017) will include an option for small group collaborations, but will otherwise remain the same in terms of its overall objectives. The collaboration group will evaluate group process in the form of a reflections and informal feedback- (weekly and summative). Each student will critically consider the collaborative process of the group, group learning alongside their individual role and their contribution to the overall group. The group will also collaborate to produce a group reflection that considers the collaborative process in terms of:

  • The organisational and planning strategies used to keep the project moving and keep each other motivated
  • The personal skills they used or/and think they gained in working this way
  • Negotiation conflict
  • Listening to different perspectives, ways of working that were in stark contrast to their own
  • Some real advantages or disadvantages to working collaboratively, and if would they would consider working this way again in their study, or other areas of life.
  • Recommendations would they make for improving the project
  • Key responsibilities for tutorial staff will be to ensure the principles of collaboration are followed so in their role they monitor both themselves and the groups, alongside ensuring the progress of the project meets timeframe constraints

Target group:: 400 + student (first semester - first year at university)

Collaboration takes into account::

  • Different learning styles and Growth Mindsets
  • Favoured ways of working
  • Culturally responsive: Maori and Oceanic/Pacific akonga
  • Self-determination, interdependence, independence and self regulation
  • Graduate Attributes Toi – (Creativity), Mohio – (Virtuosity), Matauranga – (Understanding), Mana – (Autonomy), Whanaungatanga – (Connectedness)

Feedback Going Forward

Information gleaned from reflections and evaluations made by staff and students and collated statistical data from the Academic Registrar will contribute to the ongoing development of CCS papers.

Key Questions

  • How did collaboration processes compliment students learning styles?
  • What did they learn from the process they can take into other learning projects?
  • In what ways did the tutorial team consider it contributed to the overall participation, engagement and learning of their tutorial group – broadly and more specifically the collaborative group?
  • How did the tutorial team moderate their urge to break with facilitation and take a more directive role?
  • How might collaboration be utilised in other CCS papers across different levels?
  • How can we in formal education contexts take up Bishops (2003) idea that students are involved at every step of the curricula – project, project design, goal setting, tasks, assessment evaluation?

Potential Impact of Findings

Responds to the key questions raised in this inquiry that surround student engagement and participation, as well as achievement and retention

The benefits of undertaking a project is that it provides some evidence for the benefits of digital and collaborative learning in CCS.

Digital technologies are legitimised as pedagogical tools, especially in CCS paper where instructional modes are heavily weighted in favour of transmission styles of instruction and writing a primary mode of production

Sets in place collaborative initiatives for other CCS papers at various levels.

Other obvious findings will reveal how closely we are meeting our objectives in terms of our university strategic plans and policies, and meeting TEC and Ministry of Education guidelines.

Feedback and Revision

I shared this plan with a colleague who responded to it with the following feedback:


Bishop, R. (2003). Changing Power Relations in Education: Kaupapa Māori Messages for 'Mainstream' Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Comparative Education, (2). 221.

Glynn, T., & Bishop, R. (2013). Cultural issues in educational research: A New Zealand perspective. He Pukenga Korero, 1(1).

Roberts, M. (2012). Mind maps of the Maori. GeoJournal, 77(6), 741-751.

Scatliff, A., & Meier, A. (2012). Holistic learner engagement for success in the innovation age: Portfolio, Strengths-Based and Collaborative Learning Strategies, in Wankel, L. A., & Blessinger, P. (Eds). A, Increasing student engagement and retention using social technologies : Facebook, e-portfolios and other social networking services. Bingley : Emerald, 2012

Stefani, L. (2015). Higher Education In New Zealand: A case study of the land of the long white cloud. In Blessinger, P., & Anchan, J. P. (2015). (Eds.) Democratizing higher education: International comparative perspectives. Routledge.

Tinzmann, M. B., Jones, B. F., Fennimore, T. F., Bakker, J., Fine, C., & Pierce, J. (1990). What is the collaborative classroom. Proceedings of NCREL.

Wankel, L. A., & Blessinger, P. (Eds). A, Increasing student engagement and retention using social technologies : Facebook, e-portfolios and other social networking services. Bingley : Emerald, 2012 Aotearoa/New Zealand. Comparative Education, (2). 221

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