Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) in Higher Education

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a teaching strategy that facilitates active learning through a self-directed, question-driven search for understanding that affords the opportunity to explore a subject and develop central questions through their exploration.

Dr. Beth Archer-Kuhn

I am Dr. Beth Archer-Kuhn, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary. With many practice years in the field of social work in clinical and administrative roles, I am as comfortable teaching practice courses such as interviewing skills, group work, and community development to undergraduate and graduate students, as I am teaching qualitative research methods to doctoral students. In preparation for a career in post-secondary education, I completed six courses, level 1 and Level 2, of the University Teaching Certificate (UTC) program. I have learned the value of constructive course alignment (learning activities, assessment tasks, and learning outcomes), and have developed an awareness of my teaching practices, and knowledge of my constructivist pedagogy. These practices are consistent with inquiry-based teaching and learning which I continue to pursue my Teaching Scholar Award project in both teaching practice and research here at the University of Calgary.

  • Associate Professor
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Teacher or Facilitator's Role

            I see this translating to the classroom quite naturally, in the role of teacher or facilitator. Students bring to the classroom their prior knowledge and various styles and motivations for learning, with lives outside of the classroom that can enhance or complicate their learning experiences. My role as a teacher is to provide an authentic learning environment that encourages growth and development of knowledge and skills through methods that address individual learning styles, co-constructs knowledge, identify and recognize values, and ultimately empower students to achieve their potential through engagement as learners. This reflexive approach encourages the power of relationship, including respect for self and diversity, and is a vehicle that is modeled through the teaching and learning experience. 

Encouragement to Paticipants

        I believe students need to be invited and encouraged to participate in their learning, to share their knowledge with their peers, and to challenge each other’s thoughts, values and beliefs if they are to become critical thinkers. I view scholarly teachers as people who critically consider the literature on their subject matter, integrated with their own values and beliefs, while encouraging students through their words, expectations, and actions to do the same. One way to invite students to engage in their learning is by providing opportunities for choice in their topics and the ways in which students engage in their learning. I view social justice as not only a goal in social work education but also as the process of education. Similarly, I view student engagement as an issue of social justice.

Adapting Experiential Learning

          Given the varied learning preferences of each learner, I have adapted my experiential learning to inquiry-based learning (in a number of courses), fostering a student-centered approach to learning. Students have access to the learning opportunities afforded through choice, and their choice is proving to result in greater engagement of their learning. I am integrating my research and teaching by encouraging self-determination and empowerment through a greater choice of what students learn and the ways in which they learn.

Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL)



Teaching Scholar Reward

Teaching Scholars Project

This “Project” entitled, Shifting Educational Practices with Inquiry-Based Learning: Aspiring To Meet The Educational Needs of Today’s Learner, is a 3-years Teaching Scholars Award by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. The Project is intended to support the implementation of inquiry-based learning (IBL) within social work education at the undergraduate level and across campus in varied disciplines by providing what researchers have found to be the essential components to facilitate successful implementation; a common language and knowledge of IBL, and guidelines for implementation. The Project is intended to dedicate support through modeling, educational sessions, consultation, and constructing designated “inquiry spaces” to facilitate IBL practice.


Getting Started Manual and Group Study Program Feedback

My experiences have drawn me to pursue IBL as part of my research agenda in social work education. Students are engaged in their learning through a self-directed, question-driven search for understanding that affords the opportunity to explore a subject and develop central questions through their exploration. I have observed the ways in which IBL can engage students in their learning in a far deeper way than traditional teaching approaches, and I am inspired to risk and trust the process to support students to achieve the reported benefits. Yet, I know the uncertainty inherent in IBL and the fear and discomfort that can arise for first time IBL instructors. Formalized training and institutional support can contribute to an instructor’s level of comfort implementing IBL practice. Of particular note, even instructors who have struggled with IBL implementation still reported seeing value of the approach for student skill development. This Project intends to support faculty willing to risk and engage in IBL by providing professional development through information, resources, modelling and consultation.


Previous IBL works, conferences, and resources

I. Previous Inquiry-Based Learning works II. Previous Inquiry-Based Learning Conferences 1. Student-Led Conference at University of Calgary 2. Curiosity and Inquiry-Based Learning in Higher Education: A working Conference at University of Calgary 3.Reigniting Curiosity and Inquiry in Higher Education: A working Conference at University of Prince Edward Island III. Additional Resources

Structured Controversy

Structured Controversy

What is Structured Controversy?

“Like a debate, structured controversy requires students to explore a variety of positions, but here students on each side of a controversy are required to summarize the other position to the satisfaction of those who presented it. This means students are to listen carefully to hear exactly what is being said and not just what they think is being said. Structured controversy can be extended by asking students to find common ground and to identify the issues about which they still differ” (Hudspith & Jenkins, 2007).

Process of Structured Controversy