Whither POGIL?

I spent this morning brainstorming ideas for my Methods of Problem Solving course (abbreviated MOPS, not to be confused with this) that I teach every fall. It is a sophomore-level “bridge” course designed as a prerequisite for the upper-division math courses. And it has been a merry-go-round of pedagogical ideas that never really quite work, ever since I designed and started teaching the thing back in fall 2001.

Being tenured now and looking at teaching this course in perpetuity, for all I know, I am craving stability and reusability. I thought that I had attained this last fall when I redesigned the course using the Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) model. Longtime readers of this blog and my old blog BrightMystery.net (no longer online) know that I really went to the mat for POGIL when I attended a workshop and blogged about it last year. I spent hours embroiled in heated exchanges with anti-contsructivism purists about the viability and suitability of POGIL as a pedagogical technique. I was lambasted for being insensitive to the needs of learning-disabled students because of my belief that just telling them what they “need to know” isn’t enough. In short, I found myself being a defender of the POGIL faith, even though all I wanted to do was make my MOPS class more effective; and I found myself defending constructivism as a pedagogical technique* even though I am not a full-blown constructivist myself.

So it may surprise folks that I am moving away from POGIL this fall as the main framework for MOPS. I’m keeping some elements of it, like the intensive group work with little mathematical assistance from me, in the class. But I am no longer going to attempt to conduct what is apparently the world’s only POGIL-oriented math class.

The reason basically is because I don’t feel any special loyalty to the POGIL group that actually got the NSF grant to run the workshop I went to, and which sort of oversees POGIL-oriented publications and happenings. Unfortunately my experience with the official POGIL group has been less than stellar. The idea from the workshop last summer was that all of us participants would go back home and design some POGIL stuff for our classrooms; send it in or post it to a special POGIL Blackboard site (there’s a warning sign right there — the use of Blackboard!), and then we would all comment on it and we’d create a sort of community of POGIL people.

By Christmastime, nobody had posted anything to the Blackboard site. I cleaned up some of the POGIL activities that I had done in MOPS and sent them in; I was assured by one of the main guys that he would look at my materials and comment. As of this writing, he has not responded and the materials have not been posted. It appears that the POGIL “community” has become just another NSF-funded vehicle for the proposers, and no real community is being attempted at all.

I had a simlar experience with another NSF-funded minicourse a few years ago; we were all going to create class materials using this software from the minicourse to create a DVD that would be published. I ended up being the only person to write anything up, and that DVD never saw the light of day.

So I’m all done with NSF-sponsored conferences and minicourses that overpromise and underdeliver. I’ll keep the ideas but won’t plan on committing to the cause.

* Let’s all understand this word “technique”. It means that constructivism and its instantiations (e.g. discovery learning) are ways of teaching that can and should be used to good effect when the time, the material, and the audience are well-suited for it. Discovery learning is a technique. Lecture is a technique. They are tools to be used for certain jobs, and none of them can be used for every job with equal effectiveness. It amazes me how many self-appointed education pundits ignore this plain fact and insist on all-or-nothing approaches to pedagogy. One guy at KitchenTableMath, for example, simply could not get it through his head that even if a pedagogical technique doesn’t work well for K-8 classrooms, it still might work well for college classrooms. And there are many like him; if constructivism doesn’t work for MY kid in the 5th grade, it can’t work for ANYBODY in ANY grade! Geez, people.

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