Incorporating Active Learning and Student Inquiry into an Introductory Merchandising Class

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many educators believe that student learning is enhanced when they are actively involved in classroom activities that require student inquiry. The purpose of this paper is to report on three student inquiry projects that were incorporated into a merchandising class with the focus on making students responsible for their learning, rather than the teacher. The students' evaluations of the projects were very positive. In written evaluations of the class, many expressed liking the projects and described them as a very useful way to learn and understand the class topics and contents. These responses suggest that the active learning and student inquiry strategy was helpful to the students in understanding the content of the course. It is recommended that educators actively involve students in the learning process by developing projects that require student inquiry. Additional research to analyze the benefits and limitations of active learning and inquiry and to examine how institutions can support faculty to implement active learning should be conducted.

Keywords: Active learning, Student inquiry, Merchandising class

1. Introduction

Educators have recognized the importance of student-centered learning in the college classroom. They have found that students learn best when they are actively involved in the classroom activities. The importance of student inquiry and active learning has received much attention in higher education (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Luckie et al., 2004; Myers & Jones, 1993; Umbach et al., 2005; van Zee, 2000; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). When teachers apply an active learning strategy, students perform tasks that require them to think (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Wilke, 2003; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). Mattsons (2005) describes active learning as learning by doing, which not only develops students' thinking abilities, but also enables them to retain the subject matter (Myers & Jones, 1993).

One objective of active learning and student inquiry is to shiftthe focus (and the responsibility) of learning from the teacher to the student (Luckie et al., 2004; Scholes, 2002). Another objective is to inspire learning and creative thinking (Kumar, 2003). In addition, active learning increases both student enjoyment and learning (Fox-Cardamone & Rue, 2003). Fox-Cardamone and Rue (2003) describe the importance of active learning in helping students connect new knowledge to previously learned information in order to increase understanding and retention. Active learning is expected to construct meaningful learning, improve interest in learning, increase knowledge and retention, promote self- regulated and self-reliant learners and increase students' self-efficacy (Wilke, 2003).

Students' inquiry allows them to ask and answer their own questions so that they can better understand the class content. In doing so, students assume responsibility for their own learning and knowledge by doing more work (Luckie et al., 2004). Student inquiry is important because it promotes deeper understanding of the materials and helps students to formulate and ask probing questions (Eyler, 2000; Luckie et al., 2004). Student inquiry focuses on generating questions, investigating, observing, and analyzing problems (Luckie et al., 2004; van Zee, 2000) It involves group discussion, outlines, small group activities, problem solving, student-instructor feedback, and role playing (Kane, 2004; Morgan, 2003; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005).

Active learning and student inquiry based learning can be used across disciplines (Kane, 2004; Luckie et al., 2004; Morgan, 2003; Wilke, 2003; Wood, 2005; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005; van Zee, 2000). Wood (2005) constructed a student-centered course outline to encourage presentations, group work, and research. Yoder and Hochevar (2005) use small-group and class discussions, simulations, videos, demonstrations and exercises in a women's undergraduate psychology class. …

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