Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Integrating Inquiry-Based Learning into Undergraduate Geology

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Integrating Inquiry-Based Learning into Undergraduate Geology

Article excerpt


Despite robust rationales for using an inquiry-based pedagogy in university and college-level science courses, it is conspicuously absent from many of today's classrooms. Inquiry-based learning is crucial for developing critical-thinking skills, honing scientific problem solving ability, and developing scientific content knowledge. Inquiry-based pedagogy provides students with opportunities to participate and practice the activities involved in science. There are a number of dimensions that are integral to the creation of an inquiry-based learning environment that are applicable to the geological sciences. We considered these dimensions in the design of an inquiry-based undergraduate geology course and collected quantitative and qualitative data that documents the successful implementation of this redesigned course. Our findings show that when appropriately structured, inquiry-based learning can help students develop critical scientific-inquiry skills, suggesting that inquiry-based learning is essential for teaching geology at the university or college level. With the proper alignment of course objectives, content, pedagogical design, tasks, assessment strategies, and instructor and student roles, geoscience instructors at the university or college level can create inquiry-based learning environments in which students are able to successfully develop skills in scientific inquiry as well as geological content knowledge.


[GJeology is both a body of knowledge and a way of thinking and doing things. That is, there are things that we do operationally as well as things we know. Often in undergraduate education there is a tendency to emphasize the knowledge but not the way of thinking and doing. (Buchwald, 1997, p. 327)

Blueprint for Change: A Report from Hie National Conference on me Revolution in Earth and Space Science Education (Barstow and Geary, 2002) details a new vision for teaching and learning in the earth sciences. Blueprint for Change advocates adppting a 'science-as-a-verb' perspective that emphasizes the human elements (e.g., successes, failures and emotional dispositions) that are associated with engaging in science as inquiry (Yore et al., 2002). This is in direct opposition to the 'science-as-a-noun1 perspective, which stresses textbook knowledge, lists and procedures about scientific processes. Geoscience education should help students develop thinking skills such as inquiry, visual literacy, understanding ol systems and models, and the ability to apply knowledge and problem solving to a range of substantive, real-world issues (Barstow and Geary, 2002). To accomplish such goals, Blueprint for Change recommends that science educators use inquiry-based learning and visualization technologies in the classroom, laboratories, and other environments to promote understanding of the earth as a system of processes.

The purpose of this paper is to provide practical guidelines to instructors of undergraduate geoscience courses who wish to integrate inquiry-based learning into their teaching. We begin with an overview oT inquiry-based learning, followed by a framework that can be used to design a course or laboratory that incorporates inquiry-based learning. Lastly, we describe a specific case or integrating inquiry-based learning into an undergraduate geology course as well as the results and lessons learned from the experience.


Inquiry-based Learning and Teaching - The use of inquiry-based learning has received much attention since me National Research Council (NRC) released the National Science Education Standards (NSES) (NRC, 1996) for K-12 education. Inquiry-based learning refers to the activities of students and how they develop understanding of scientific ideas and how scientists study the natural world (NRC, 1996). Using inquiry in the classroom as an instructional method can help students achieve understanding of scientific concepts by having students practice and participate in the activities typical of a working scientist. …

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