SERO Model for Inquiry Teaching in Software Development Education

Posted on April 29, 2011


Engaged students in SERO style lecture session


Author:  Sanjay Goel,



In late 90’s, in  a one to one conversation wrt a project, Prof. BN Sarasawati,  at IGNCA, made a very powerful  statement, “questions are more important than answers.”    This was my one of the best lessons learnt at IGNCA.   We learn when we engage ourselves in finding answers to some questions.  Successful inquiry of  difficult questions creates deeper learning. Deep learning occurs when we also learn to raise new questions.  Feeling of cognitive dissonance [1] [2] [3] [4] is a necessary precondition for learning.

Engaging students in inquiry is one of core principles of my proposed framework for designing pedagogical engagements [5].   In this article, I discuss how lectures can be used to engage students in small inquiries to (re)discover knowledge for themselves individually and collectively rather than receive it as well formulated constructs from teachers.

The discourse in the lecture classroom can be viewed as a story telling artifact. The objective of this artifact is to create a meaningful learning experience and knowledge structures for every learner. The discourse in a large number of lectures is designed as a closed artifact that primarily sees the students as consumers. A fundamental challenge for designers in the new millennium is to design open systems and artifacts by inventing and designing a culture in which humans can express themselves and engage in personally meaningful activities [6]. Open systems and artifacts must evolve, they cannot be completely designed prior to use. They must evolve at the hands of the users, and they must be designed for evolution. The dichotomy of designer and user has to be eschewed. Seeding, Evolutionary growth, and Reseeding (SER) has been proposed as a conceptual framework for designing sustainable, open, and evolutionary systems [7] [8].

A seed is the initial state of a system that is intended to evolve.  The evolutionary growth phase is one of unplanned evolution as the seed is used by the members of a community to do work. Reseeding is a deliberate effort to organize, formalize, and generalize knowledge created during the evolutionary growth phase. Courses as seeds have been proposed as a promising model to evolve and enrich courses by allowing students to act as active contributors, and not just as passive consumers [9].

The genesis of any story experience is Emotional Movement [10]. Users crave emotional engagement and stimulation.  Situated inside the context of lecture classroom, every learner (user) is the author of his own personal meaning.  Meaning is the product of interaction between the observer and the system, the content of which is in a state of flux, of endless change and transformation [11]. In Poetics, Aristotle suggested that a well constructed plot must be a whole having beginning, middle, and end [12]. Movement Oriented Design (MOD) views a story as an ensemble of ‘story units’ in which a ‘story unit’ has three parts, the Begin, Middle, and the End (BME) [13]. Begin lays the groundwork, hooks the user, imploring to find out more. Middle carries the main story message, conveys the core meaning.  End terminates the story, concludes the current story, and/or links to the next.

As per the SERO model, every lecture is delivered as a series of SER blocks, and concluded with a learning Outcome. Seed is the fresh idea or question from a teacher which is generally not an obvious derivative of an earlier idea. Evolution has been used to label the active learning phase in the class involving individual thinking, group work, discussions (among student groups of varying size, and also between the students and teacher), and solving problems that require thinking in terms of  analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation.  Reseed is being used to label the phase of formalizing the informal ideas generated during the evolution stage, and deriving another seed as a derivative of this evolution.

Students usually have greater motivation to learn in the context of solving a problem, than if the content is delivered out of context [14]. The seeding phase in SERO based lectures offers good opportunity to create context.  Situated in this context, the content is developed during the evolution phase through problem solving activities.

The teacher makes a deliberate attempt not to deliver generalized content without the context or before problem solving. Instead, the generalisations are presented as a natural fallout of the theorising process through solution-unification during the reseeding phase to conclude the evolution phase. In this model, the teacher has to support the students during evolution phase individually or in smaller groups and only some time the entire class.

The teacher needs to be the centre of attention of the entire class only during the limited period of seed and reseed stages, and occasionally during the evolution stage, as and when the need arises. Sometimes the evolution phase may also become teacher-centric, as the teacher may occasionally decide to demonstrate the problem solving process with some specific case(s), rather than engaging the students in problem solving because of the lack of sufficient background with the students or time constraints. However, the problem solving characteristic of the evolution phase remains unchanged. At the end, the learning outcomes are summarized and an assignment is announced. This assignment forms the reseed for the next class.

Usually there are not many seeds in a lecture, only reseeds. Most of the time is used in evolution and active learning. This model has been tried out successfully in many courses, even with a large number of students.  The attached pictures of one such class during the evolutionary growth of a concept through group exercise.  Given below are summaries of the proceedings of one  such lecture class  of computer graphics  in 2004 at JIIT.

Summary of SERO lecture in a Computer Graphics course (2004)  

1.  Seed 1.1.1:  CG has picture description as input and picture as output.

2.   Seed 1.1.2:  Required inputs = fn (desired output).

3.   Evolution 1.1: Output picture taxonomy for CG

                      static vs dynamic picture (degree of dynamism)

                      colour vs B&W (colouredness in the whole spectrum from binary to true color)

                       interactive vs non-interactive (degree of interactivity)

                       realistic vs symbolic (degree of realism)

                       objects vs abstract (degree of abstraction)

                        geometric objects vs natural objects

4.   Reseed 1.1 (Homework): Refine the taxonomy.

5.   Seed 1.2: Demonstration of a simple working graphics program and its code, with a focus on initialisation and closing of graphics mode, and some introduction to other functions.

6.   Reseed 1.2(Homework): Practice using the graphics library.

7.    Reseed 1.3: Identify some static and b&w picture and describe it in a machine readable format.

8.     Evolution 1.2: Get your description critiqued by your partner, and rewrite your description.

9.     Reseed 1.4: Develop a description scheme for encoding a description of a tree in machine readable format  in a text file.

10. Evolution 1.3: Three solutions proposed by students:

(i)      Row major 1/0  (ii) List of points for which colour is 1. (assumption: all others are 0)

(ii)     Vectorised information

11.Reseed 1.5 (HW):  Develop a description scheme for encoding a tree description in machine readable format in a text file. Create this file. Write a program to read this file, and create a tree on the screen.

12. Evolution 1.4 (HW):  Design and programming work over the week involving 2 hrs. of batch-wise practical session with  laboratory instructors in batches of 30 students, and group-wise discussions with the teacher with some groups on their initiative.

Learning Outcome #1: Students got an insight into the working of a simple graphics program already created by one of their peer student. They also succeeded in conceiving and evolving the taxonomy of graphics and data structures for static graphics.  


SERO style lecture classes were found to be highly engaging and useful by motivated undergraduate students. However, many other students, who were mainly motivated by examination oriented study, did not find these classes very useful for them.

Challenges for Inquiry Teaching in Software Development Education

The success of Inquiry Teaching mainly depends upon students’ active participation in the inquiry process. It requires, and also furthers, the transformation of students’ perception about their own role in the process of learning from an information receiver to an active contributor to meaning making. However, for many students, their old habits formed through prior experiences with exposition based teaching, can hinder their enthusiastic participation as an active learner in the classroom, especially in large and unresponsive classes. Such students find inquiry teaching to be unsatisfactory, and miss the opportunity of not only deep but also surface learning.  Therefore, it is most important to sensitize students to this method of learning in their early courses. For maximizing the benefits of inquiry teaching, students need to ‘learn to learn’ through this method.

Including puzzle solving in first computing course has been found to be very useful for nurturing the habit of inquiry learning in computing students [15].


[1]   Two Core Principles about Learning

[2]   Phenomenon of Learning – A Unified Explanatory Theory

[3]   Great Gurus’ Wisdom – What Socrates, Galileo, and Einstein said about teaching?



[6] Arias, E.G., Eden, H., Fischer, G., & Schraff, E. “Transcending the Individual Human Mind – Creating Shared Understanding through Collaborative Design”, ACM Transactions on Computer Human-Interaction, 7(1), pp. 84-113, March 2000.

[7] Fischer, Gerhard, Meta-design: Beyond User Centered and Participatory Design, Proceedings of HCI International, Crete, Greece., 22-27 June, 2003.  

[8] Fischer, G., Seeding, Evolutionary Growth and Reseeding: Constructing, Capturing and Evolving Knowledge in Domain-Oriented Design Environments, Journal of Automated Software Engineering, Springer Netherlands, pp 447 – 464, October 1998.

[9]  Fischer, G. dePaula, R., Ostwald, J., “Courses as Seeds: Expectations and Realities”, Proceedings of The European Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (Euro-CSCL 2001), Maastricht, The Netherlands, March 22-24, pp 494-501, 2001. [

[10] Sharda, Nalin, Combining the Art, Science and Technology of Multimedia with The Multimedia Creation Circles Paradigm, Preprint, 2004,

[11] Ascott, R., Is there Love in the Telematic Embrace? Art Journal:  New York:  College Arts Association of America. 49:3, pp. 241-7, 1990, retrieved from

[12] Aristotle, “Poetics”, 350 BC.

[13] Sharda, Nalin, Combining the Art, Science and Technology of Multimedia with The Multimedia Creation Circles Paradigm, Preprint,, 2004.

[14] Miliszewska Iwona et al, “Transnational Education through Engagement: Students’ Perspective”, Informing Science, pp 165-173, June 2003.

[15]  Engaging Students in Puzzle Solving for Developing their Logical Problem Solving ability

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