Changing practice towards inquiry-oriented learning

Purdue University Press
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Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st Century, 2015, pp. 208 - 220
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The Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) is part of the Australian Government’s Department of Education with a mandate to promote and support change in higher education institutions for the enhancement of teaching and learning. This chapter describes the goals, processes and outcomes of a one-year OLT National Teaching Fellowship1 awarded to the author in 2011 to transform institutional practice by mainstreaming inquiry-oriented learning (IOL) in science in Australian universities. Inquiry plays a critical role in the professional lives of scientists. By comparison, until recently, inquiry has assumed a modest role in the undergraduate science curriculum (Alkaher & Dolan, 2011). IOL activities have the potential to enhance students’ problem-solving skills, stimulate creativity and foster innovation within students (Hanif, Sneddon, Al-Ahmadi, & Reid, 2009; Lee, 2012). These are essential attributes for students who complete a degree in science (LTAS, 2011). Through IOL activities, students: engage with scientific questions that have no predetermined answer; develop and implement approaches to address those questions; refine their approaches in order to enhance the quality of their data; gather evidence, and; communicate explanations and conclusions based on that evidence (adapted from Olson & Loucks-Horsley, 2000). As such, IOL reflects processes employed by scientists in their discipline-based research. Evidence has steadily accumulated of the effectiveness of IOL to enhance student engagement and learning in science (see for example, Casotti, Rieser- Danner, & Knabb, 2008). The question arises as to why few science degrees programs in Australia have embedded IOL or similar approaches in their curriculum. Part of the answer lies in the absence of a critical mass of stakeholders able to drive curriculum change on a large scale.
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