Evidence

Why use student centred approaches in our teaching?

There is a vast literature on inquiry-oriented, and similar, approaches to learning.

Strong research evidence exists to support the implementation of IOL approaches. There is a vast literature on inquiry-oriented, and similar, approaches to learning. The literature goes back many years and is spread across specialist education journals and other journals that have a discipline-specific focus. We present brief summaries of some peer-reviewed publications that discuss the effectiveness of inquiry oriented and other similar student-centred approaches to learning. The material is drawn from a range of sources and some has its origin in work done at secondary school level where inquiry based approaches to learning have been applied (and debated) for many years.

A Study of the Inquiry-Discovery Method of Laboratory Instruction

The achievement of the experimental subjects on the same final laboratory examination… was significantly better than that of the control subjects.

– Richardson & Renner 1970

Richardson and Renner 1970

Looking at the effect of moving from direct instruction to inquiry based/oriented learning, this study by Richardson and Renner adopts a ‘control vs experimental’ group approach by randomly assigning first year chemistry students to a control group (providing a detailed experimental procedure) or an experimental group (adopting an inquiry approach). Student achievement in the laboratory was assessed by a number of means including through a final examination, short examinations on each experiment and pre and post test on the day of each experiment. Richardson and Renner state, “In the situation in which both the control and the experimental groups responded to eight identical pre and post test, the experimental subjects achieved a statistically significant better mean than the controls subjects on all eight pre and post tests. In addition to this the achievement of the experimental subjects on the same final laboratory examination… was significantly better than that of the control subjects.”

Levels of scientific enquiry in university science laboratory classes: implications for curriculum deliberations

When the overall purpose of the course changes to emphasize scientific enquiry, the role of tutors is changed correspondingly.

– Hegarty 1978

Hegarty 1978

In this study, Hegarty considered the effect of the level of inquiry present in each laboratory activity on the behaviour of students and laboratory tutors in microbiology laboratory classes in two Australian research-intensive universities. Hegarty found that, as the level inquiry rose, students spent more time talking about ‘scientific processes’ and that the discussion mostly occurred with and between lab. partners, not the tutors assigned to the class. Interestingly, interaction with tutors was found to decrease as the level of inquiry increased, but that time spent by the tutors on management issues (out of class) increased. Hegarty makes the insightful suggestion: “When the overall purpose of the course changes to emphasize scientific enquiry, the role of tutors is changed correspondingly. If tutors do not possess the relevant new skills, they will not be able to discharge the authority of their roles. They and their roles will therefore seem diminished with respect to their students. Under such circumstances of perceived threat, increase of concentration on management activities (especially away from the classroom) might be a predictable response.”

The Student-Centred Activities for Large Enrolment Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) Project

Students are learning substantially more than in traditional settings…

– Beichner et al 2006

Beichner et al 2006

16 collaborating schools which established highly rich, interactive activity-based learning environments replacing the traditional lecture/lab combination in physics are profiled in this project. Their findings indicate that, compared to traditional methods of instruction, students conceptual understanding, attitudes and success rates are improved. In their own words, “Students are learning substantially more than in traditional settings, in terms of conceptual understanding and demonstrating problem solving ability as good or better than their peers in lecture sections.”

Successful implementation of inquiry-based physiology laboratories in undergraduate major and nonmajor courses

…an inquiry-based curriculum… increases understanding of the scientific approach, and enhances creative and critical thinking.

– Casotti et al 2008

Casotti et al 2008

Discontent with, for example, students’ capacity to convey ideas in a laboratory report, Casotti et al replaced their old curriculum which included step-by-step instructions on how to carry out an experiment, with (amongst other things) new inquiry based laboratories. From their summary: “The results of our [Student Learning Outcome] assessment indicate that an inquiry-based curriculum enhances student understanding of physiological concepts, increases understanding of the scientific approach, and enhances creative and critical thinking.”

Can inquiry-based learning strengthen the links between teaching and disciplinary research?

If teachers are aiming for strong links between teaching and research, they should adopt an open, discovery-oriented inquiry-based approach.

– Spronken-Smith & Walker 2010

Spronken-Smith and Walker 2010

Inquiry and research in science have much in common and some would suggest that they are one and the same when describing the work that scientists do. Spronken-Smith and Walker analysed three case studies in order to examine the potential for inquiry based learning to strengthen the link between teaching and research. In their words: “The findings show that, if teachers are aiming for strong links between teaching and research, they should adopt an open, discovery-oriented inquiry-based approach. However, more structured and guided form of inquiry can be useful to progressively develop particular inquiry skills.”

Experimental comparison of inquiry and direct instruction in science

Inquiry-based instruction potentially offers significant advantages for science education, by modelling scientific inquiry during concept learning…

– Cobern et al 2010

Cobern et al 2010

Comparing inquiry and direct instruction at secondary school this study revealed no statistically significant difference in the improvement in student conceptual understanding (in two physics topics) between the achievement of students on standard tests where some students were exposed to an inquiry approach, and the others to direct instruction. To quote the authors: “Inquiry-based instruction potentially offers significant advantages for science education, by modelling scientific inquiry during concept learning… However, as far as science concept understanding is concerned, our conclusion is that expertly designed instructional units, sound active-engagement lessons and good teaching are as important as whether a lesson is cast as inquiry or direct.”

References

Beichner R.J. , Saul J. M., Abbott D.S , Morse J.J., Deardorff D. L. , Allain R.J , Bonham S. W , Dancy, M. and. Risley J. S. (2006) The Student-Centred Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) Project http://www.per-central.org/items/detail.cfm?ID=4517 Casotti, G., Rieser-Danner L. and Knabb M. T. (2008) Successful implementation of inquiry-based physiology laboratories in undergraduate major and non major courses Adv Physiol Educ 32:286-296, Cobern, W. W. , Schuster, D. , Adams, B. , Applegate, B. , Skjold, B. , Undreiu, A. , Loving, C. C. and Gobert,J. D.(2010) Experimental comparison of inquiry and direct instruction in science, Research in Science & Technological Education, 28: 1, 81 — 96
Hegarty, E H 1978 Levels of Scientific Enquiry in University Science Laboratory Classes: Implications for Curriculum Deliberations. Res. Sci. Educ. 8, 45-57. Richardson V and Renner J. W. (1970) A Study of the Inquiry-Discovery Method of Laboratory Instruction J.Chem. Educ. 47:1, 77-79 Spronken-Smith R and Walker R (2010) Can inquiry-based learning strengthen the links between teaching and disciplinary research? Studies in Higher Education 35,1,723-740