Concerning Inquiry-Based Learning

Thanks to another fine post from David Bressoud on his Launchings blog, I’ve just read “Assessing Long-Term Effects of Inquiry-Based Learning:  A Case Study from College Mathematics,” by Marina Kogan and Sandra L. Laursen.  The study collected data of various forms from mathematics courses at four universities, comparing students who took IBL courses with their counterparts who took the same courses in non-IBL formats.  I’ve read the whole thing, and so should you, but for now let’s jump to the conclusion:

College instructors using student-centered methods in the classroom are often called upon to provide evidence in support of the educational benefits of their approach — an irony, given that traditional lecture approaches have seldom undergone similar evidence-based scrutiny.

I’ll just insert an “amen” to that observation.  Moving on:

Our study indicates that the benefits of active learning experiences may be lasting and significant for some student groups, with no harm done to others.  Importantly, “covering” less material in inquiry-based sections had no negative effect on students’ later performance in the major.  Evidence for increased persistence is seen among the high-achieving students whom many faculty members would like to recruit and retain in their department.

The authors go on to suggest questions for future research.  I would be particularly interested in investigations of IBL-based introductory mathematics courses (this study focused on mid-level courses).

Going back, now, to the beginning of the paper, to the “Setting and Courses” section:

…despite variation among courses and instructors, several key characteristics differentiated the IBL courses from the non-IBL courses.  On average, about 60% of class time in IBL courses was spent on student-centered activities such as small group work, student presentation of problems at the board, or whole class discussion, while in non-IBL courses over 85% of class time consisted of the instructor talking.

I have occasionally described the changes I’ve been making to my own teaching as “talking less.”  That’s an oversimplification, of course, but I do hope I’d come in well under 85% most of the time.


About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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One Response to Concerning Inquiry-Based Learning

  1. perrylessing says:

    This is just great Priscilla, as always. Thanks for getting it to me.

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