Inquiry-based teaching methods focus on helping students to make a transition from “novice-like” approaches to learning (memorizing conclusions reached by others, practicing solutions to “the questions that might be on the exam”) to “expert-like” approaches (a procedural understanding of how current conclusions were reached, the limitations of those conclusions, and the opportunities for further exploration and deeper understanding).
Inquiry-based approaches are not new, but they are currently receiving much attention for two reasons. First, inquiry-based approaches are well-aligned with the natural abilities of faculty at a research university (and therefore they are enjoyable to implement). Second, cognitive psychologists have studied ways that people learn, including undergraduates in conventional lecture courses. They have reached the somewhat alarming conclusion that conventional courses in some disciplines actually make students more novice-like in their approach to understanding than they were before the courses began.
Faculty in all disciplines at Carolina have been experimenting with inquiry-based approaches for many years, particularly during the past five years with the assistance of the GRC program. To date (Fall 2011), over 500 courses involving over 17,000 students have been taught in ways that include the results of student inquiry as course material. Faculty and students have found these courses to be highly satisfactory.
You may want to read more about getting started. If you decide to explore further, we in the OUR would be happy to discuss approaches you are considering and put you in contact with a colleague in your discipline who could offer additional advice.