In the Winter 2023 session, I taught the complementary course Séjour international [International Stay] at Cégep Limoilou. To prepare my students for a 3-week trip to Morocco at the end of the session, I set up 2 activities involving technological tools to develop attitudes, rather than technical or technological skills. Here I present these activities—one involving virtual reality (VR) headsets and the other a laser engraver cutting machine—and describe how technical barriers were lowered to allow for a focus on the development of wonder as a learning attitude.

The aims of complementary general education

In the Quebec college system, all students enrolled in programs that lead to a Diploma of College Studies (DCS) are required to take 2 complementary courses. Complementary general education is 1 of the 3 components of general education and pursues a threefold goal:

  • the acquisition of a common cultural background
  • the development of transferable skills
  • the adoption of desirable attitudes

Complementary courses are designed to bring students into contact with fields of knowledge other than those that characterize their pre-university or technical program of study. The objectives and standards proposed by the ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur give rise to transferable skills that are more cultural than vocational in nature.

As a result, learning activities in these courses should be designed to help students discover new horizons and broaden their field of knowledge. More specifically, the Séjour international course targets the ministerial competency 021M (Explore a contemporary issue from a transdisciplinary perspective).

To complement and successfully support the development of the research skills taught in this course, I also wished to focus on what I consider an essential attitude related to these skills and with the encompassing competency in a broader sense: wonder. In the field of education, wonder is associated with intellectual curiosity, openness to the world, creativity, and self-reflection.

All of these attitudes are listed in the generic course plan for Séjour international, as they are in many other course plans. Therefore, planning the use of technological tools to develop not only specific skills, but also broader attitudes, is relevant in the context of most, if not all college courses.

What is wonder?

The capacity for wonder is an attitude often likened to looking at the world like a child. This is due to the fact that for young children, many things are new and unfamiliar. However, researchers in educational psychology argue that experiencing wonder is not limited to the new, and suggest that the development of a mature or adult form of wonder is rather determined by the presence of a reflexive element (Wolbert & Schinkel, 2021).

Wonder encompasses contemplative wonder (“wonder at”) and inquisitive wonder (“wonder about”). In this sense, wonder is not just educationally important as a motivation to learn, but also because:

  • it is central to a learner’s understanding of what they don’t know, what they think they know, and what they recognize they cannot know
  • it revives or keeps alive the learner’s interest in the subject matter
  • it increases awareness of the existing ways to understand things, and helps learners to see alternative possibilities

Based on these observations, we can distinguish 3 dimensions of wonder in education:

  • a cognitive dimension (a state of “not-(yet)-knowing” that inspires curiosity)
  • a sensory dimension (considering the object of study from different angles or with different senses)
  • an emotional dimension (e.g., awe and amazement)

Based on these observations, education researchers working on wonder-full pedagogy have identified 4 characteristics of pedagogical tools that encourage wonder:

  1. Exploration. Activities and examples must offer something more than the effect of novelty. The teacher should be sensitive to the students’ experience and guide them from mere surprise to a deeper experience of wonder (awe and curiosity).
  2. Improvisation. The teacher must have room for improvisation, i.e., have the time and flexibility to go along with students’ reflective thinking process and explore their questions and comments.
  3. Imagination. Imagining what someone else experiences stimulates emotional connections to the subject matter and sparks creativity, both of which play a role in keeping students motivated and engaged.
  4. Personal interest. Within wonder-full pedagogical activities, students should have opportunities to pursue angles or aspects that interest them personally.

I kept in mind these 3 dimensions and 4 characteristics as I designed the 2 learning activities described in the following sections.

The need to lower technological barriers

Given the focus on developing attitudes rather than the skills involved in using the technological tools as such, it was paramount to lower the technological barriers that might have stopped students from being fully immersed in their learning experiences.

To this end, the assistance and guidance of the Cégep Limoilou support staff were essential:

  • Mathieu Brisson, the college’s multimedia technician, pre-loaded the VR content on all headsets, so all students had to do was click “start.” He brought the material into my classroom using the college’s VR cart, gave the students a quick brief, and remained present throughout the activity.
Photo of a classroom with whiteboards covering the left and back walls, and windows on the right wall. Students are seated around 3 islands of 5 or 6 individuals. In the back of the room, a male technician is holding up a virtual reality headset while talking to the students. It can be inferred that he is explaining to the students how to use the headset. Image source: Andy Van Drom

Multimedia technician Mathieu Brisson explaining to the students how to put on the virtual reality headset and start the activity.

  • Claude-Olivier Guay, the college’s fab-lab coordinator, created a series of 9 brief video tutorials [in French] to walk students through the installation and use of the InkScape software used as part of the laser cutter and engraving machine project. He was also present on-site throughout the activity, giving students explanations and supporting them as they used a machine that was new to everyone involved, including to me as a teacher.

The support and guidance they provided for the students also eliminated any technological barriers that may have existed for me as a teacher, allowing me to focus on the contents rather than the container, and making the organization of these learning activities easier and less stressful.

Virtual reality as a launching pad for wonder

In the very 1st class of the session, after the presentation of the course plan, I wanted to set the tone and kickstart my students’ capacity for wonder by having them explore different Moroccan sites and landscapes in virtual reality. Using her template for supporting teachers in their pedagogical reflection ahead of a virtual reality activity, pedagogical counsellor Annie Bergeron and I discussed my pedagogical aims (focused on the development of attitudes, more specifically, wonder) and examined how the use of virtual reality would help to attain those. This led me to plan the following pedagogical scenario:

  • First, students teamed up in small groups to participate in a Jeopardy-style quiz on Morocco, prepared on Factile.
    • The aim of this quiz was not for students to acquire new knowledge, but to activate the cognitive dimension of wonder (sparking curiosity by creating a state of not-yet-knowing).
    • Because of the gamified format and the nature of the questions, all 4 characteristics of wonder-full education were met. Students could decide which questions they wanted to answer, and the “fun fact” type of questions appealed to the students’ imagination (for most questions, it was unlikely they’d know the actual answer). We took the time to discuss all answers given, leading to ample improvisation.
On a blue background, a grid representing 5 questions across 5 categories is displayed. The categories, in French, are listed in 5 columns: traditions, geography, culture, history and economy. In each column, there are 5 rows of questions identified by an amount ranging from $100 to $500. At the bottom of the screen, 2 avatars, a cartoon-style pineapple and a cartoon-style potato, represent 2 teams.

Screenshot of the Factile quiz students completed in small teams before engaging in the virtual reality activity.

  • Then, students individually viewed a 360⁰ video using a VR headset and controller. I had previously selected this video from the myriad 360⁰ videos freely available on YouTube. This activity was set up so half of the class group lived the virtual reality experience while the other half took a break. To be inclusive, I also set up a laptop with the same video, so students preferring not to use a VR headset (for whatever reason) could still have the same experience.
In the back of a classroom, in front of a wall covered in 3 whiteboards, 9 students are sitting on chairs that are lined up in 2 rows, with about 5 students in each row. All students are wearing virtual reality headsets. Image source: Andy Van Drom

Students are viewing a 360° video to explore different places in Morocco using a virtual reality headset.

360° video presenting various cultural and historical sites in Morocco

  • After the VR experience, students regrouped in their small teams (from step 1) to discuss the following questions:
    • What was your emotional response to the screening?
    • What caught your attention?
    • What piqued your curiosity?
    • What surprised you?
    • Choose one of the places you saw. Which smells, sensations, tastes and sounds does it evoke in you?
    • Based on your discussions, which 1 word do you feel best represents Morocco? Be ready to explain your choice!

The VR experience and ensuing discussion aimed to activate the remaining 2 dimensions of wonder-full education: the sensory and emotional dimensions.

A quick survey completed by the students after the activity confirmed the attainment of this goal:

  • the nature of exploring aspects of Moroccan culture and society in virtual reality engaged them in a way that just reading or talking about the country and seeing photos wouldn’t have achieved
  • the VR experience led to a sense of awe that piqued the students’ curiosity and wanted them to learn more about the country

Wonder through experiential learning in the Fab-Lab

Later in the session, after midterm, students worked on a project that I designed to instill a sense of wonder with regard to Moroccan arts and crafts. During our trip, we would be able to see plenty of handmade objects in wood, copper, etc., and even witness some craftsmen at work in the souks.

To help students to fully appreciate the artisanship and effort involved in making these objects, as well as the differences between the traditional methods used and the mass production techniques we are more familiar with, I designed an experiential learning project involving the use of a laser cutter engraving machine situated in the college’s Fab-Lab [in French]. Situated at Cégep Limoilou’s Campus des métiers d’art, little known to most students, the Fab-Lab proved a source of wonder and awe in its own right!

Experiential learning

Experiential learning emphasizes hands-on, practical experiences to help students shape their understanding of various subjects. In this method, students actively engage in learning through activities, projects, and direct experiences rather than traditional passive instruction. This encourages students to explore, experiment, and reflect on their experiences, making learning more meaningful and memorable. This aligns well with the dimensions and characteristics of wonder-full education.

After learning about artisanship, materials, colours and patterns prevalent in Moroccan culture, students formed teams of 3, including 1 person self-identifying as tech-savvy (to further ensure technology wouldn’t cause any undue barriers). Spanning 3 weeks, the project comprised the following steps:

  • As a team, students researched geometric patterns and their origin or meaning, and explained their appeal, which encouraged them to look beyond visual aesthetics (and incidentally also allowed them to consolidate their research skills), thus activating the emotional dimension associated with wonder.
  • The following week, after choosing 1 specific image (related to the characteristic of personal interest), using the free vector graphics editing software InkScape, each team set out to prepare and transform the corresponding image file for the production of a wooden coaster engraved with their chosen pattern.
    The process was facilitated by Claude-Olivier’s step-by-step video tutorials, yet still emphasized the cognitive dimension of being faced with something new and allowed for exploration, improvisation and imagination, especially in the absence of time-related pressure.
  • The 3rd and last class dedicated to the project took place in the Fab-Lab. The teams took turns importing their prepared image file to the laser engraver cutting machine. Under the guidance of Claude-Olivier (who had validated all the images files ahead of time), each team member then got to manipulate the machine to produce one wooden coaster:
    • insert the piece of veneer that would be cut and engraved
    • align the laser
    • close the protective cover
    • start, monitor and stop the process

    Once this process finished, each student manually polished their coaster.

This hands-on portion of the project activated the sensory dimension of wonder, and being able to keep the finished coaster also left the students with a sense of pride. In the very first few minutes of walking around the souk of Fez, a student spotted wooden coasters very similar to the ones they had produced. The group was quick to remember the effort they had invested in the project and reflect on how much more work would be involved in doing all of the engraving by hand. Here again, students demonstrated an attitude imbued with a sense of wonder.

4 round pieces of veneer are laid out in a vertical line on a white surface. They are engraved with Moroccan geometrical patterns. Image source: Claude-Olivier Guay

4 wooden coasters prepared by Claude-Olivier Guay from the same image file to give students a concrete idea of the finished product they were working toward.

A laser engraver cutting machine is positioned against a white wall that has coloured conducts running across it. On the left of the machine is a vacuum cleaner and a gas tank; on the right is a chair and a desk with a laptop on it. 3 people are in front of the laser engraver cutting machine, facing it: a male lab technician is explaining to 3 female students how to operate the machine. Image source: Andy Van Drom

Fab-Lab coordinator Claude-Olivier Guay explains to a team of 3 students how to operate the laser engraver cutting machine to engrave and cut a wooden coaster.

Close-up photo shot showing a metal grid on the inside of a laser engraver cutting machine of which the protective cover is open. We see the right arm and the back of the head of a male student who is placing a thin piece of wood onto the grid, aligning it with the machine’s laser. Image source: Andy Van Drom

Under the supervision of the Fab-Lab technician, a student aligns a piece of wood in the laser engraver cutting machine before starting the engraving process.

A female student is bent over a work bench set up in front of windows. A round wooden coaster is placed on the work surface. The student is using a piece of sandpaper to polish it. On the work surface, we also see 2 rolls of tape, a cloth and a snap-blade knife. Image source: Andy Van Drom

A student using a piece of sandpaper to polish a wooden coaster after it was engraved and cut.

What do you want your students to wonder about?

After identifying a specific attitude that I wanted my students to develop and demonstrate (wonder) as part of the complementary course I taught, I set out to design pedagogical activities involving the use of technological tools.

My approach was very similar to the one I take when using digital or technological tools to support skills development: I identified specific aspects of the attitude targeted, set objectives, and questioned myself on how to use pertinent tools to attain these objectives.

Somewhat different was the constant need to monitor that technological barriers were as low as possible to avoid distractions or frustrations, since acquiring the skills to correctly use these technological tools was not the end goal of the pedagogical activities. The collaboration with our technopedagogical counsellor and support staff was as essential as it was enriching.

Which attitudes are important in the courses you teach? How could technological tools facilitate their development? And who would be your college’s go-to people to support you in implementing such pedagogical activities? Share your own experiences or ideas in the comments!

About the author

Andy Van Drom

Andy Van Drom has been teaching English as a second language and linguistics since 2005, first at Université Laval and then, since 2012, at Cégep Limoilou. After completing doctoral studies in Linguistics (Université Laval), he obtained a second master’s degree, in Higher Education Pedagogy (Performa, Université de Sherbrooke). With the aim of supporting inclusive teaching practices and fostering student success, his focus is on the role of language mindset in learner motivation. Andy has published 4 ESL textbooks with Pearson ERPI as well as several open educational resources in digital format. His keen interest in pedagogy led him to work with Profweb (now Eductive) in 2017 and with the AQPC in 2021, 2 mandates that are still ongoing. His desire to innovate in pedagogy has earned him an AQPC Honourable Mention, a Forces Avenir Award and the EF Excellence Award in Language Teaching.

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