What is it?

As an instructional approach Inquiry-based learning enables students to learn through first hand applied experimentation. This method is often used in science and engineering providing experience in observation, data information collection, as well as analytical and problem solving skills. However this methodology is also being applied in social science, law, medicine and other clinical disciplines. In these areas students are given the task to investigate data and analyze information in order to predict and determine outcomes within social contexts.

When using a inquiry-based learning it is essential for teachers to determine the learning goals and outcomes as well as prepare ...

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As an instructional approach Inquiry-based learning enables students to learn through first hand applied experimentation. This method is often used in science and engineering providing experience in observation, data information collection, as well as analytical and problem solving skills. However this methodology is also being applied in social science, law, medicine and other clinical disciplines. In these areas students are given the task to investigate data and analyze information in order to predict and determine outcomes within social contexts.

When using a inquiry-based learning it is essential for teachers to determine the learning goals and outcomes as well as prepare sessions to ensure everything runs smoothly. It is therefore imperative to provide clear instructions and be both facilitator of information as well as teacher within the classroom. In addition for inquiry-based instruction to be effective students need to understand how and why they are doing an experiment. Establishing the overall purpose of an experiment will enable students to better comprehend and see the link from theory to practice.

According to Banchi, H. and Bell, R. (2008) from their article “The Many Levels of Inquiry, there are four levels of Inquiry-based learning: 1) Confirmation, 2) Structured, 3) Guided and 4) Open/True. In confirmation the teacher creates questions or activities which have a predetermined solution. The intention is to help students to learn how to follow procedures, collect information and confirm results. With structured the teacher provides students with the question and the method or procedure. However students must develop their own conclusions through reviewing the information they have collected and analyzed.  Guided inquiry is where students are only given the research question. This requires students to develop a procedure or method to evaluate the question in order to come to a conclusion or explanation. This type of inquiry is effective when students have been given the opportunity to learn and practice various ways to plan and evaluate a question or problem. In Open/True it is the students who create the question, develop the procedures to assess the question and then present their results. It is recommended by Banchi and Bell (2008) that teachers begin use inquiry-based learning at the lower levels so students can improve and develop their inquiry skills.

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When to use it?

Context & Requirements

Level
All levels
Discipline
All disciplines
Class size
Dependent on activity and equipment needs
Classroom settings
Dependent on the type of activity
Technological requirements
Varies

Skills Promoted

  • Collaborative learning
  • Critical thinking
  • Inquiry Learning
  • Peer instruction
  • Problem solving

Who’s using it?

SALTISE community members who use this strategy and are willing to share advice and/or resources.

Level University
Institution McGill University
Discipline Biology – Neurogenetics
Instructor Joe Dent
Class size Varies
Classroom setting Laboratory with necessary equipment
Activity: Experimental Design in Neurobiology
Resources used View More
Level College
Institution Vanier College
Discipline Physics – Mechanics
Instructor Kevin Lenton
Class size 30-40
Classroom setting Requires access to a vehicle and an empty stretch of parking lot
Activity: Mass of A Car
Resources used View More
Level University
Institution Concordia University
Discipline Applied Human Sciences
Instructor Caroline Samne
Class size N/S
Classroom setting Group problem solving; creating and asking relevant questions
Activity: Action-Learning Sets
Resources used View More

Why use it?

Using inquiry-based learning helps students improve their critical thinking skills by critiquing the experimental designs of their peers. In a laboratory setting, students also learn how to write scientifically, and gain a hands-on understanding of the scientific method through designing and conducting experiments.

Students can be hesitant to critique each other, therefore, it needs to be clear that critiques are meant to help students improve their experiments and there are no negative consequences to defects in experimental design during peer review.

Ready to try it out?

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Helpful resources

References 

Aktamış, H. & Acar, E. (2010). The effect of “laboratory practices in science teaching” course on development of prospective science teachers’ self- regulation skills. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2 (2), pp. 5549-5553

Cantonwine, Emily G. 2014. Creating an Active Learning Environment in the Laboratory with Prepared SlidesThe Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-T-2014-1222-01

Clancy, M., Titterton, N., Ryan, C., Slotta, J., & Linn, M. (2003, February). New roles for students, instructors, and computers in a lab-based introductory programming course. In ACM SIGCSE Bulletin (Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 132-136). ACM.

Davies, C. (2008). Learning and Teaching in Laboratories: An Engineering Subject Centre Guide. Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre, Loughborough University.

Henige, K (2011) Undergraduate student attitudes and perceptions toward low- and high-level inquiry exercise physiology teaching laboratory experiences. Advances in Physiology Education.

Overbaugh, R. C., & Lin, S. (2006). Student characteristics, sense of community, and cognitive achievement in web-based and lab-based learning environmentsJournal of Research on Technology in Education39(2), 205-223.

Puttick, G., Drayton, B. & Cohen, E. D. (2015). A Study of the Literature on Lab-Based Instruction in Biology. The American Biology Teacher 77(1):12-18, January.

Websites 

Assessing Laboratory Learning. – Teaching Practice, University of Sydney

Lab-Based Learning. – Centre for Teaching and Learning, Queen’s University

Laboratory Teaching Guidelines – Stanford Teaching Commons, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL)

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