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Inquiry-based learning

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IBL and group work or peer learning

IBL frequently involves students working in groups, particularly at levels one and two. The advantages of group work are that it helps develop team skills, generate new ideas, and share tasks. Hutchings (2007: p. 24) provides one model of how IBL group work can function:

  1. Generation of the topic within the context of the module, which may come from the tutor or from the group.
  2. Group analysis of topic in order to identify key issues, difficulties, problems etc.
  3. Group identifies gaps in knowledge, or aspects of existing knowledge that require further exploration, as well as suitable resources.
  4. Tasks allocated amongst group, who research primary and secondary sources and collect primary data or conduct experiments as appropriate.
  5. Evidence assembled, discussed and applied to issue.
  6. Further iterations of research if appropriate and if time.
  7. Preparation and presentation of outcomes, the format of which may or may not be up for discussion, and assessment.
  8. Reflection on outcomes and learning process; generation of new questions.

On the Manchester University MA in Translation Studies, students undertake a translation project in a group where different members take on different tasks – project manager, technologist, terminology researcher, translator and reviser – in a simulation of a real life translation project. They also record and reflect on their experiences.

IBL will be a core part of the new Manchester University degree, BSc IT Management. Student teams will solve problems set by business partners, taking on particular business and technical roles and aiming to deliver appropriate solutions. The teams will have a mentor from business and will also use collaboration tools to interact with students from a similar programme at the University of Arizona.

Group work is important at all levels in Sheffield University Management School. Level one aims to equip students with skills in collaborative inquiry. The topics for investigation will be set by students, who will also be responsible for selecting their own datasets and defining criteria for assessment. They will also build information literacy skills and reflect on their learning.

Sometimes, learning involves peers rather than a group; here the peer can act as a resource. In addition, talk between the peers can help increase understanding as students explain their ideas.

Kahn and O’Rourke (2004) describe a case study of students learning a language in pairs (one being a native speaker of the language concerned). Students carried out a series of research tasks – discourse analysis, translation, study of a newspaper, or survey of a journal – with the native speaker being used as a resource. The task was supported by online discussion forums with WebCT, and the tutor was also available to advise.

At Harvard University, one professor, Eric Mazur, developed a technique of peer instruction in an introductory physics module, whereby some class time is given up to conceptual questions, designed to expose common difficulties. Students discuss these questions in pairs and then try and agree the right response in groups of three or four. Students benefit by thinking about the material, justifying their responses, and clarifying their thoughts by explaining them. See