Rethinking Course Design with POGIL

ISTE Standards for Coaches

This is my final blog post for the quarter based on the ISTE standards. In this module, the fourth, I integrate the ISTE Standards for Coaches 1D & 2F.

Triggering Event

What skills, resources and processes will you use to help peers co-plan learning activities they want to improve?

Triggering Question

How might Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning help a professor move from a traditional didactic lecture classroom learning environment to a student-centered learning environment?

Exploration and Integration

For the past few years I collaborated with our university’s educational technology department to introduce professors to active learning strategies. Our overarching goal is for professors to untether themselves from the podium computer system in the classroom enableing them to walk around the room, interact with students, and use active learning strategies instead of relying on a traditional lecture-style style of teaching. In addition to providing iPads and iPad specific training–focusing on elegant use of the device– we support our effort by educating professors about active learning strategies developed by the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) at the University of Minnesota.

Using the resources from the University of Minnesota enables our professors to think differently on a micro-level on making small adjustments and implementing specific strategies at specific times in particular courses. For example, a professor can integrate a think-pair-share activity into a class without drastically changing the format of the class session. The hope is that implementing micro-level active learning strategies will lead them to change from a professor-centered classroom using primarily lectures to a student-centered classroom using active learning strategies.

My module four question reflects deeply about student-centered classroom learning in such a  way that moves beyond only implementing one-off activities. I want to think through the potential overarching strategies that are available to redirect an entire classroom environment to be student-centered. To that end, I discovered  Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) during my preliminary research which was the impetus for my question, “How might Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning help a professor move from a traditional didactic lecture classroom learning environment to a student-centered learning environment?”

What is POGIL?

Developed in university-level chemistry courses in 1994, POGIL is a strategy to transform a classroom learning environment from lecture-based to student-centered with student learning groups (POGIL website). POGIL is a flexible enough to be used in a variety of subjects and grade levels. POGIL doesn’t require a strict structure per se, but allows professors, high school teachers, and so on, to adapt the strategy as necessary–allowing the teacher to own the strategy and implement it in a unique and contextual way. POGIL, in their own words, is built on three main research-based concepts. First, “Teaching by telling does not work for most students.” Second, “Students who are part of an interactive community are more likely to be successful.” Third, “Knowledge is personal; students enjoy themselves more and develop greater ownership over the material when they are given an opportunity to construct their own understanding” (POGIL website).

POGIL uses seven core components–which, based on our learning in EDTC 6105, closely align with the K-12 21st century skills.

  1. Communication: students work in groups together and learn how to communicate effectively with each other to accomplish the tasks at hand. This requires students to develop skills–linked to the component below–to strategically work with their peers who may be underperforming or not collaborating. Furthermore, students exercise their ability to communicate their discoveries, research, questions, and work to the rest of the class–including the teacher–in succinct and clear ways.
  2. Management: students learn how to manage their group in terms of time and people. First, they must develop an understanding of how much time is needed to accomplish tasks, develop ideas, and research. Second, students groups are self-governing and require the team to manage people who are, for example, underperforming.
  3. Teamwork: students work together in learning teams. Teamwork is essential because each student is assigned a different role in the group. “The term learning teams is used rather than cooperative or collaborative learning groups because it better brings to mind similarities with athletic teams in which students work together to reach common goals” (Hanson, 2006, p. v).
  4. Critical Thinking: students develop critical thinking skills as they work through a problem. The Operationalized POGIL Process Skill Definitions states it as,  “Analyzing, evaluating, or synthesizing relevant information to form an argument or reach a conclusion supported with evidence” (POGIL website, 2015). Teachers ask students questions rather than provide answers. This provides the opportunity for students to develop critical thinking skills (Hanson, 2006, p. 7).
  5. Problem Solving: students build problem solving skills as they work through a problem using critical thinking skills. Problem solving provides an opportunity for students to work together on real-world topics and work toward a solution. The Instructor’s Guide to POGIL provides a helpful problem-solving overview with steps that students may go through (Hanson, 2006, p. 10).
  6. Information Processing: students develop skills to “evaluate and interpret” information–much like information literacy courses taught by librarians. Furthermore, they go one step further in the learning teams to “manipulate or transform” information. (Operationalized POGIL Process Skill Definitions , POGIL website, 2015).
  7. Evaluation and Assessment: students assess and evaluate each other–specifically how did everyone contribute–and work towards making changes in the future. Students learn how to provide effective feedback to other people. The handbook provides an example assessment process team members can use to evaluate their team and personal contributions.

Students are assigned the following roles in their learning team:

  1. manager – makes sure the team is on-task and facilitates team dynamics and structure.
  2. spokesperson – shares with the class what the learning team discovers or unresolved questions, for example.
  3. recorder – the team scribe who, while participating as a full member, makes sure key concepts, questions, and work is recorded.
  4. strategy analyst – I think of this position as the wise counsel who sits back and listens deeply then enters the conversation to keep the team on track. The analyst, “Identifies strategies and methods for problem solving, identifies what the team is doing well and what needs improvement in consultation with the others, and prepares a report in consultation with the others” (Hanson, p. 25). The guide provides an example report.

According to the introduction video, POGIL produces students who are more engaged in their learning, active in the process by asking the right questions, learning on a deeper level and performing better.

Implementing the POGIL learning cycle is a fundamental switch from a traditional lecture-based classroom environment. I appreciate the following chart posted on Carleton College’s website showing the different between POGIL and a traditional classroom (Macdonald 2004).


My concerns about POGIL revolve around how a professor can be well-supported in transforming their course. POGIL provides a wealth of resources, including the aforementioned instructor’s guide. Furthermore, there are a number of other tools, including workshops and trainings, instructors have access to. I wonder how a university may provide a robust training program to help professors evaluate POGIL to see if it is appropriate for their field of study and collaborate to transform their course. My professor, Dr. David Wicks suggested connecting an instructional designer and professor together during the design phase of the course. Because the design phase is early on in the course planning workflow, it could prove to be perfect time for a professor and instructional designer to develop the course together based on POGIL. POGIL isn’t an easy “add-on” to an already developed course, but can prove very valuable when designing a new course or redeveloping an old one.


Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. website.

Operationalized POGIL Process Skill Definitions. 2015.

Hanson, D. (2006). Instructor’s guide to process-oriented guided-inquiry learning. Lisle, IL: Pacific Crest.

Macdonald, H. (2004) Geologic Puzzles: Morrison Formation, Starting Point. Retrieved Sept 9, 2004, from

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