Research Approach - Inquiry-Based Learning Report
Part 5 of the Inquiry-Based Learning Report
The project employs a multi-institutional, qualitative case study approach, combining the thick description of individual case studies with cross-case thematic analysis (Merriam, 1998). Each case is explored from three perspectives or angles – that of the teacher/course designer, that of the students and that of the course/activity documentation. Thus each case contains rich description of the teacher’s aims and objectives for the inquiry-based activity, the activity itself and its intended learning outcomes, the students’ experience of IBL through this particular learning activity and the impact of IBL on student learning outcomes. This multi-perspectival approach results in a triangulation of evidence about practice.
All the researchers work as educational developers in their respective institutions. Furthermore, all have an interest in the use of inquiry in undergraduate education.
- Rachel Spronken-Smith has a background as a lecturer in geography, where she instigated inquiry approaches in her teaching (e.g. Spronken-Smith 2005). After moving into an academic staff development role at the University of Otago, she continued to teach using inquiry approaches, in both her postgraduate teaching in higher education, as well as her undergraduate teaching in geography and environmental science.
- Rebecca Walker has a background in educational psychology and has worked to assist higher education research in the Higher Education Development Centre at the University of Otago.
- Julie Batchelor has a background in both nursing and education. After initially working as a lecturer in nursing at CPIT, she moved to a learning support role following her research that looked at information literacy, academic skills and their place in curricula. She now manages the Learning Support Services and works closely with both Faculty and Staff Development to support teaching and learning.
- Helen Matthews has worked in Staff Development at CPIT for many years and became interested in the potential of IBL when working with teaching staff on the Diploma of Teaching (tertiary).
- Billy O'Steen worked in experiential education with Outward Bound, the North Carolina State University Service-Learning Program, and now at the University Centre for Teaching and Learning. He has focused on the use of reflection about experiences and how individuals transfer those reflections into understandings and future experiences. Because that transference requires personal meaning-making and individual inquiry creation, this opportunity to research inquiry approaches in different disciplines builds upon his interests and experiences.
- Tom Angelo was the Director of the University Teaching Development Centre for the Victoria University of Wellington, but near the project completion he moved to La Trobe University in Melbourne, where he is a Pro Vice-Chancellor (Curriculum and Academic Planning) and Director of the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Centre. His research interests include the teaching-research nexus and aspects of evaluation including classroom assessment techniques. Tom was an adviser to the project, assisting with aspects of study design.
The first phase of the research involved the use of case studies. Three institutions were selected from which to draw case studies of inquiry based learning: the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT); the University of Canterbury (UC); and, the University of Otago (UO). Within each institution the lead researcher determined the scope of possible courses for inclusion in the project, based on a mixture of personal contacts, requests for contributing researchers and institutional knowledge. In each institution at least three case studies were purposively selected in order to capture a range of inquiry experiences, from activities within a course (e.g. project in level 4 paper in Fashion Technology and Design at CPIT) to inquiry-based courses (e.g. the Stage 3 Communication Disorders course at UC) to a whole degree (e.g. Ecology Degree at OU) (Table 1). Furthermore, these inquiry experiences included examples from all stages of undergraduate study as well as encompassing a broad range of disciplines. A brief description of the nature of each case study can be found in Appendix B.
The specific research questions for each of the case studies were:
- How and why do teachers design IBL activities?
- What are the intended learning outcomes of these activities?
- To what extent are the intended learning outcomes achieved?
- To what extent do the examples of IBL reflect individual initiative and teaching philosophy and to what extent are they reflective of a departmental teaching culture?
- In what ways does such teaching/learning contribute to the development of a shared community of practice/learners?
|Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology||
|University of Canterbury||
|University of Otago||
The second phase of the research involved a cross-case analysis and had three objectives:
- to determine how IBL contributes to the development of graduate attributes in each institution and to government educational priorities
- to determine factors that promote the effective use of IBL
- to identify challenges to the effective use of IBL
- to reconsider our conceptualisation of IBL.
For both phases of the research mixed methods were used to obtain data, with quantitative data collected through survey instruments and qualitative data collected through interviews with teachers and course designers, as well as small group instructional diagnostics (where the class is split into smaller groups and evaluative questions are given to the groups to consider and lead to feedback for discussion in the wider group) or focus groups with students.
Three sets of data were gathered around each case study:
- the experiences of the teacher/course designer
- the experiences of the students
- course/activity documentation.
In addition, there were observations of the inquiry sessions in action.
Data from teachers/course designers
The teachers/course designers were interviewed to determine why they used inquiry, how they used it, their evaluation of the activity, and the links between their use of inquiry and their research and teaching. The specific questions asked included:
- What does the phrase “inquiry-based learning” mean to you?
- How would you describe your use of inquiry in relation to your discipline and your teaching in this course?
- In relation to this course, why did you choose to engage students in IBL activities?
- By whom and how were the IBL-related aspects of the course designed and what inspired and/or motivated that design work?
- What do you want your students to know and be able to do at the end of this course?
- How do you expect your inquiry-based approach will further those outcomes?
- How will you know how well students have achieved those outcomes?
- What were your experiences of the IBL-related aspects of the course this semester?
- How have your colleagues reacted?
- In what ways do you see this IBL activity as connecting, now or in future, to your teaching agenda, research agenda, and professional advancement?
- What kinds of support/resources/professional development would be helpful during this IBL course/activity?
Some quantitative data were also collected from the teachers/course designers. They were asked to complete a checklist of inquiry features for their course (Table 2 and Appendix C). The teachers were also asked to complete an IBL survey instrument (see Appendix C) by filling out both their predictions and their hopes of student response. A discussion of their survey forms versus the student response occurred during the interview when exploring their experiences of the inquiry activities
|Focus of Inquiry|
|Are there open-ended questions that lead to the formation of defensible answers?|
|Are tasks focused on areas that have more than one possible outcome?|
|Do students work through the process of constructing knowledge?|
|Do the questions challenge students?|
|Are there elements of student choice in selection of questions, context of application and/or methods of inquiry?|
|Does the inquiry align with the teacher’s research interests?|
|Role of teachers|
|Are teachers there as co-learners?|
|Do teachers act as facilitators?|
|IBL approaches and processes|
|Is there teaching of the research process?|
|Are relevant transferable skills taught?|
|Are the outcomes, teaching method and assessment well aligned?|
|Is there a transparent assessment scheme?|
|Do students collaborate in their learning?|
|Do students reflect on the process of constructing knowledge?|
|Is there a move to self-directed learning and increased responsibility?|
Data from students
Several forms of data were collected from students. Two survey instruments were used. The first was an IBL survey (see Appendix C) which explored the type of learning encouraged in this course/activity (e.g. memorising, explaining, analysing, applying, evaluating), their experiences of inquiry-related features in the course (e.g. whether they were faced with questions that had multiple possible answers, whether they had to take responsibility for their learning, whether they thought about how they were learning, whether they were intellectually challenged etc.) and requested freeform comments detailing things they had learned in the course that were particularly valuable. Second, students completed a course evaluation (Table 3 and Appendix C) comprising ten standard questions, as well as an opportunity for freeform comments regarding factors that helped or hindered their learning in the course.
|I found the course to be well organised||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|Information about content, assessment and other important matters has been clearly communicated in this course||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|This course helped stimulate my interest and learning in the subject||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|I learned a great deal about the subject matter||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|This course helped develop my ability to engage in research-related activities||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|Completing the assessed work helped me learn||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|Comments and feedback I received help me learn more effectively||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|The overall workload in this course was||much too much||too much||about right||too little||much too little|
|On balance, how would you rate the quality of the teaching in this course? (Give your overall reaction, considering all the different kinds of teaching.)||outstanding||very good||okay||poor||very poor|
|Overall, this was a good quality course||strongly agree||agree||neutral||disagree||strongly disagree|
|What has helped your learning in this course?|
|What has hindered your learning in this course?|
|Do you have any suggestions for improving this course?|
Near the completion of the course or inquiry activity, qualitative data were gathered regarding student experiences of the inquiry approach. These data were obtained from either a small group instructional diagnosis with the whole class (generally when class sizes were <40 students), or from focus groups. The aim of these sessions was to explore students’ experiences of participating in the activity, the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they developed as a consequence of that participation, their evaluation of the effectiveness of that activity, any changes they might recommend to further enhance their learning, their understandings of the relationship between their teacher’s research and teaching and their learning, and the extent of their awareness of participating in a community of practice. Accordingly several key questions framed these sessions:
- Before the [course/activity] started, if you can recall, what were you expecting/hoping to learn from this course? In what ways and to what extent did you expect it would affect your knowledge, skills, attitudes, other ____?
- Now that you've been in the [course/activity], how has it actually affected your learning? What kinds and how much learning have you experienced? Have there been any pleasant surprises? ‘Aha’ moments? Disappointments?
- This course has tried to engage you in inquiry - in learning a process(es) for questioning and for thinking critically about and seeking answers to difficult questions or problems. To what degree has that happened for you? How would you explain that (answer)?
- In what ways, if at all, did your teachers' research affect/influence this course and your learning?
- To what extent did you feel you were part of a community of researchers/inquirers during this course? How and to what extent did your classmates affect your learning? How do you explain those answers?
- Which specific aspects of the course have really helped/hindered your learning?
- What would you suggest changing in order to improve learning in the course?
- Any further comments you'd like to make?
Documentary and other data
Documentation was gathered for each case including:
- Course outlines
- Activity instructions (including online resources if relevant)
- Related assessment activities
- Examples of student work (with their permission)
- Related departmental policies
Finally, the inquiry courses/activities were observed by members of the research team. Field notes were taken and, in some cases activities were digitally recorded.
Two phases of data analysis were conducted according to the two research foci: within-case analysis and a cross-case analysis.
The within-case analysis explored alignment across the categories (teacher, student and other) of evidence. In the case presentation first the background context for the inquiry course/activity was given, followed by the desired learning outcomes. The teaching approach was fully described and then student and teacher experiences of the approach were detailed. Each case concluded with reflections on the use of inquiry and implications for practitioners.
The cross-case analysis had four objectives:
- to determine how IBL contributed to the development of graduate attributes in each institution and to government educational priorities
- to determine factors that promoted the effective use of IBL
- to identify challenges to the effective use of IBL
- to reconsider our conceptualisation of IBL.
To address these objectives data were utilised from across the 10 cases to triangulate evidence and to determine key themes.