Here is what I learned about Inquiry-Base Learning (IBL) this summer. This is something that I probably should have learned a couple of years ago, but I didn’t. Also, I have heard this misconception from several people, so I do not think I am the only one.
It seems that a lot of people (including me) incorrectly think that student presentations are the main point of IBL.
I figured out that this was a misconception when I heard some other people talk about how they do IBL in their courses. I spoke to several people this summer who said that, while they couldn’t do pure IBL in a class for whatever reason, they did IBL one day a week.
A common model has been: student read proofs out of the textbook, and they present on those proofs in class on that one IBL day.
This didn’t sit well with me. I want to have a “big tent,” but I also want to preserve the integrity of the term IBL (I do not object to this teaching practice—I think it could be very useful. But I don’t think I want it called “IBL”).
I compared this model to my favorite definitions of IBL. Dana Ernst thinks that the two essential elements of IBL are that students should be both primarily responsible for guiding the acquisition of knowledge and primarily responsible for validating the ideas presented. The model above fails on both of these elements: the students were not guiding the acquisition of knowledge (they were told what theorems to look at, and they did not do any of the work to prove the theorem) and they did not validate the idea; the fact that it was listed in a textbook is already a pretty good validation. (This practice does not do any better under TJ Hitchman‘s definition).
So I was feeling pretty smug about my realization. At least, I was feeling smug until I remembered the paper I had just submitted about my Fall 2012 Calculus I class. It described the way I blended Peer Instruction and IBL into the course, and it reported how students’ conceptual understanding improved during the semester.
The problem is that my “IBL” portion of the class was little more than student presentations—it did not meet the IBL criteria that Dana and TJ described. In fact, I recognized that there was a problem part way through my class, but I did not understand that the problem was that I was not even doing IBL.
Fortunately, my paper was deemed “off-topic” for the special issue, and I was invited to re-submit the paper to the regular journal. This gave me time to fix the claims that I was doing IBL.
One last embarrassing note: I am planning my 2013-2014 classes right now, and they are mostly IBL courses. However, I was having trouble finding the right IBL format; I was building my courses around student presentations, and that did not seem quite right. Fortunately, I spoke to my colleague Anne Sinko (who attended the IBL Workshop in June), and she said something that gave me permission to let go of the focus on presentations.
One final note: I think that student presentations can be an important part of a good IBL course, and they will definitely be used in my courses this year. But they will not necessarily be the focus of the course, and they are not sufficient to be IBL.
So I apparently have difficulty letting go of the idea that IBL is basically synonymous with “student presentations.” I hope that writing this post helps rid me of the misconception.