Many leading institutions across North America are adopting inquiry-based curricula to engage and prepare undergraduate students for success in the rest of their academic and professional careers.

The sandbox-style of pedagogy—as opposed to the more linear structure found in most courses—begins with a student’s innate curiosity of a topic, and encourages them to follow their own path in comprehending its core concepts.

Courses offered by institutions such as McMaster University, a pioneer in inquiry-based education, share the following elements:

  • Structured around a specific field of study in which students will explore their own areas of interest (e.g., STEM, social sciences, business, health)
  • Teaches students about the field’s appropriate research methods and tools
  • Provides students with training in using library resources, recognizing and reviewing appropriate research (i.e., primary, secondary, tertiary)
  • Encourages reflection through regular progress reports

Understandably, not all institutions are able to allocate the resources to develop full inquiry-based courses; however, these same elements may also be implemented on a micro-level through in-course assignments and projects.

Exposing students to self-directed learning and appropriate research methods early in their academic careers—whether through a dedicated course or class project—improves their aspects for academic success and retention.

While inquiry-based learning—on any level—is more resource intensive for educators, the benefits are numerous. Students will be better prepared for future courses, have a better understanding of academic expectations, and they may find an area they are passionate about exploring for the rest of their academic and professional careers.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.