Driven by Student Questions

Inquiry learning involves questioning, exploration and discovery as opposed to memorization and drill. This approach encompasses a range of instructional practices that focus on students learning through generating questions and exploring material within the framework of course curriculum with guidance from instructors (Lee, Greene, Odom, Schechter, & Slatta, 2004). This is an approach to learning that is applicable across academic departments, from education to science majors (Wyatt, 2005) and can prepare students to become life-long learners. Justice et al. (2007) described the process of inquiry as a cycle, illustrated as follows:

Teaching for inquiry

Inquiry learning leverages students personal interests and prior knowledge by allowing them to choose their own question to ask or problem to solve, thereby motivating them to take responsibility for learning what is necessary to pursue their topic. To ensure that the students choose topics worthy of pursuit, some teachers have students complete learning contracts and give students practice assessing the quality of inquiry questions.

How two instructors built flexibility into their courses to allow for thinking-on-the-fly and instructionally relevant tangents.

Class time is then devoted to giving students experience with activities like problem-based learning, discussing how to find and evaluate information they might need to pursue their own inquiry. Overall, an inquiry course provides students with structured learning experiences to help them: (a) determine what they need to learn, (b) where to find the information they need, (c) how to analyze that information, and (d) report what they have learned. These reports can include a culminating class presentation and inquiry very frequently use portfolio assessment to evaluate a student’s overall experience. These portfolios usually include some form of reflection on the inquiry process, which many feel is critical to get the most out of inquiry.

As described by Brew (2003) teaching inquiry re-aligns the teacher-student relationship so that participants become much more similar to collaborators in the creation of knowledge. This leads to a deeper level of learning by students (Donnon et al., 2008). Inquiry-based methods of teaching can also help students connect course content in meaningful ways to broader applications in their lives (Inglis et al., 2004).