Jamie Wood

  • Inquiry-based learning pedagogies in the arts and social sciences: purposes, conceptions and approaches

    Jamie Wood and Philippa Levy
    University of Sheffield

    Research paper

    Themes: problem-based learning and enquiry-based learning

    Tuesday 2 September 2008, 16.10-17.10 in the Senior Common Room

    Inquiry-based learning (IBL) pedagogies facilitate learning through student inquiry. Activities, scenarios and projects are designed to engage students with the questions and problems of their academic or professional disciplines, using the scholarly and research practices of those disciplines. Some IBL approaches are designed principally to encourage their exploration of an existing knowledge-base, whereas others explicitly invite participation in producing new disciplinary knowledge. Pedagogical strategies range from relatively tightly-structured, teacher-led approaches, to more flexible, open approaches which offer students a high degree of autonomy in pursuing their own lines of inquiry. A growing body of literature has begun to document approaches to IBL in different contexts and to explore impact on student learning (e.g. van Oostrum and Steadman-Jones, 2007). However, with some exceptions, (e.g. Brew, 2006), much of the literature is based on descriptive, reflective or evaluative accounts of single cases of practice. At the same time, relatively little attention has been paid to exploring practitioner perspectives on IBL and, as yet, theorisation of differing IBL pedagogies is at an early stage.

    This paper discusses themes arising from analysis of an extensive body of evaluation/research data associated with IBL initiatives in the arts and social sciences in one UK higher education institution, as taken forward through the activity of a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). The CETL is using a form of ‘Theory of Change’ evaluation methodology (Connell, et al. 1995) as a common framework for practitioner-led, reflective evaluation of diverse development projects, and for exploration of their relationship with each other and with the overall, programme-level activity and goals of the CETL. A series of meta-analyses of project-level evaluation data and reports is being carried out in order to offer syntheses of what is being learned through CETL-supported projects. The aim is to inform further development of IBL in the institution, and to contribute to its development and theorization more generally across the sector.

    As part of this broader project, the CETL is exploring the pedagogical purposes, conceptions and approaches of academic staff in arts and social sciences disciplines as they develop their IBL practice. Questions that will be explored in this paper are:

    • Why do academic staff adopt IBL approaches, in terms of desired impact on the student learning experience?
    • How do they conceptualise, design and facilitate IBL?
    • What ‘models of IBL practice’ have emerged from CETL-supported activity, and can disciplinary patterns and/or differences be discerned?

    Data drawn upon include: poster-style representations of the ‘theories of change’ for each IBL development project; reflective interviews with project leaders; formative evaluation reports; ‘IBL design’ cases produced by projects for dissemination purposes. By combining inductive data analysis with reference to interpretive frameworks that have been developed by Brew (2006) and Levy and Petrulis (2007), we hope to gain greater understanding of academic staff perspectives on IBL in arts and social sciences disciplines, and identify implications for supporting further development of IBL pedagogy.