Inquiry-oriented learning in science: transforming practice through forging new partnerships and perspectives

2011 ALTC National Teaching Fellowship

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Adjunct Professor Les Kirkup

Fellowship years: 2011 - 2011 (year due to complete)

Abstract: Transforming practice by facilitating the adoption of inquiry-oriented approaches to learning is the aim of this fellowship. This will largely be achieved through applying and adapting a framework for developing sustainable innovations in inquiry-oriented learning at subject and program levels. The fellowship also seeks to understand more deeply how inquiry-oriented activities are experienced by students, and to explore and articulate what it means to facilitate inquiry-oriented learning, especially in large enrolment classes. Relationship building will be crucial to the success of the project. The Fellow will work with Australian universities intent on transforming the student experience of undergraduate science by adapting innovations in inquiry-oriented learning to local contexts and forge new partnerships between existing national communities of practice, for example in biology and physics. These partnerships will promote the distillation of methodologies that have value beyond discipline boundaries and draw on successful national and international examples of implementing and sustaining learning by inquiry through the participation of recognised individuals and groups based in Australia and overseas.

Fellowship discipline: Science, Enquiry-oriented learning

Fellowship website:

Fellowship years: 2007 - 2009

Abstract: The goal of this Fellowship was to devise an effective approach to the curriculum development of physics subjects designed for non-physics majors in order to enhance student engagement and learning. This was accomplished by directly tapping into the student experience of the undergraduate curriculum, including attending lectures and laboratories and through surveys, interviews and reviewing course materials available to students in an online environment. The focal point of much of the Fellowship was a large enrolment first year physics service subject at the University of Technology, Sydney, allowing approaches to examining the student experience to be evaluated, as well the trialling of innovations designed to enhance that experience. Several key insights emerged during the Fellowship, including first-hand experience of the cultures and conventions of other disciplines as met by new students and the challenges facing students as they navigate their way through an undergraduate science degree. Of particular concern were the laboratory experiences of students within physics service subjects. Through surveys of recently completed students, as well as of those that had enrolled in the subject in earlier years, students expressed the view that the physics laboratory was not a positive learning experience. This finding was echoed in two other recent ALTC-funded projects. The major outcome of the Fellowship is the creation, implementation and evaluation of a versatile template of local and national value that can be used to develop a physics laboratory program. The template was designed to assist in the development of a whole laboratory program, giving special attention to the objectives of the program, the educational analysis of experiments, and demonstrator support. The template, its purpose and how it may be implemented are explained in detail in the Fellowship report (see link below). The Fellowship also produced a framework for laboratory work that effectively engages non-physics majors; and an innovative approach to compilation of material for the physics service subject, which brings emphasis to the utility of physics and its relationships to students' other studies. Dissemination of the Fellowship's work has been extensive and continues through non-refereed and refereed papers, and invitations to present the work to academics at a number of universities in Australia and overseas.

Fellowship discipline: Science, Service teaching