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Inquiry-based learning

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IBL and the curriculum

IBL can be used both throughout the curriculum – as in the University of Sheffield – as well as on a much smaller scale. It used to be thought suitable only for students at more advanced levels, level three and above, once students had acquired a body of knowledge and could use research in their project. However, the thinking now is to embed the approach at all levels. The Boyer Commission (1998) recommended the inquiry approach should start with the freshman year, given that this was a crucial bridge between school and university. Their proposed model involved:

  • pre-programme remedial attention if necessary;
  • a freshman seminar, limited in size, with plenty of writing;
  • opportunities for collaborative learning;
  • constructing the freshman programme as an integrated, interdisciplinary, inquiry-based experience, for example by extended study of a single complicated subject or programme (Boyer Commission, 1998: pp. 19-21).

Subsequent years should build on the freshman year by integrating research-based learning throughout the curriculum, for example by encouraging active forms of learning, mentoring initiatives, interdisciplinary education, written and oral communication skills, creative use of information technology, and a culminating "capstone experience" or project.

For example, the University of Sheffield's Department of Human Communication Sciences organized its induction week activities around inquiry-based learning so that students’ first experience of university was a taster for things to come. Activities included a treasure hunt and poster presentations, and students showcased their posters to other students and staff.