The Distinction between Inquiry-Based Instruction and Non-Inquiry-Based Instruction in Higher Education: A Case Study of What Happens as Inquiry in 16 Education Courses in Three Universities

October, 2015

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education 51 (2015) 147-161
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This case study aims to empirically distinguish between common dimensions of inquiry-based instruction (IBI) and non-IBI dimensions. Furthermore, the authors were interested to identify the common and unique underlying dimensions of instruction that explain what kind of IBI is being provided within courses taught by instructors who describe themselves as making IBI part of their instruction.

The authors employed an instrumental and collective case-study design.
The participants were 16 professors, who were selected from a purposive, convenience sample of courses required for an undergraduate degree in education and instructors engaged in the teacher-certification programs of three universities (two in eastern Canada and one in the northeastern United States).
The participants were categorized as IBI or non-IBI based on their self-descriptions.

Data were collected through interviews, instructional plans, syllabi, and classroom observations.

The findings reveal that IBI instructors' planning was more thorough and not directly tied to a textbook. IBI instructors scaffolded their courses through activities and evaluation of student learning. The authors found that instructor and student roles supported students as active social and cognitive participants, and provided opportunities for students to gradually accept more responsibility for what and how they learned.

The authors also found that for courses designed to programmatically confer complex professional knowledge and skills, IBI education instructors perceive IBI to be part but not all of each of the content taught, course task or activity demands, or the system to evaluate students' learning.

The authors argue that IBI is part of the repertoire of instructional approaches that promote student learning most broadly and in which students learn how to become scholars in their discipline. They note that some dimensions of instruction consistently recurred in the IBI courses but did not occur in any non-IBI course:
1. students undertook projects within a course;
2. instructors carefully planned student's active participation and did not rely on a textbook;
3. instructors and students play at least six different roles in order to construct the events of a class in a way that offers scaffolding of student learning and shifts responsibility for learning to the students;
4. the proportion of time spent by the teacher and by students verbally interacting as a whole class or in small groups shifts toward students; and
5. the design of an IBI course includes typically five or six assignments that are evaluated and aggregated rather than a total course grade based solely on midterm and final examinations; this allows regular weekly feedback on student accomplishments, varied activities supporting particular kinds of inquiry experience, and credit given for sustained student participation.

These data suggested more diversity among education instructor's instructional strategies.
The authors found that IBI instructors' quality of planning and curriculum design were richer and more extensive than non-IBI instructors'.

These data suggested several underlying, pervasive themes.
The authors argue that all IBI instructors appeared to sufficiently value students' perspectives to provide frequent opportunities to engage in academic conversations with the instructor and each other in class. They found that IBI course planning and enactment fostered students as active learners inside and outside the classroom. They also note that in IBI courses there was more whole-class discussion, small-group work, and student engagement in independent and collaborative learning projects; projects were dispersed and entailed at least four weeks to complete during the 13-15 weeks of one semester. The authors found that projects did not occur in non-IBI courses.

The authors argue that inquiry instructors favorably regarded students increasing their autonomy in learning. They found that although non-IBI instructors expressed the same goal, only the IBI instructors took responsibility through the course design and how they enacted their curricula as a process in a class to help bring this about.

Updated: Sep. 05, 2018