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Inquiry-based learning

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Context

IBL in higher education received an impetus from the Boyer Commission (Boyer Commission, 1998), which published a report highly critical of the US system of higher education, particularly that in America’s leading research universities. The report contended that far from receiving the best teaching from distinguished academics at these universities, students were often taught by junior "teaching associates", ending up with a fragmented body of knowledge and inability to think logically or write clearly.

Boyer advocated a more "student-centred" approach to teaching, with students participating in the spirit of inquiry that undergirds research:

"The research university must facilitate inquiry in such contexts as the library, the laboratory, the computer, and the studio, with the expectation that senior learners, that is, professors, will be students’ companions and guides" (Boyer Commission, 1998).

The Boyer Commission’s central idea was that research should be the basis of all learning at university, from freshman to graduate, with opportunities for group work, and that above all, the production of knowledge should not be an élite activity, but one participated in by all members of an institution. Ideas of learning based on inquiry and research have now been widely adopted, for example by such leading North American universities as Princeton, Harvard, Chicago, McMaster and Calgary.

In 2005, the UK Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) approved funding for 74 Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs), of which 5 were devoted to IBL. The Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences (CILASS) at the University of Sheffield aims to build on existing work to promote inquiry as the basis of all learning throughout the university; many modules are being redesigned along inquiry lines. It offers resources and expertise to staff as well as fellowships, and has a particular focus on information literacy to support IBL, collaborative inquiry (group work), and networked learning. The Centre for Excellence in Enquiry-Based Learning (CEEBL) at the University of Manchester supports initiatives both inside and outside the university. Both centres use a "hub and spoke" model, with the hub in the centre and outreach in the departments, and both aim to contribute to the research on and evidence base for IBL.