- Inquiry into the College Classroom
In this second book to come out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Peer Review of Teaching Project, Paul Savory, Amy Nelson Burnett, and Amy Goodburn provide an overview of a model for classroom inquiry that will be useful for anyone wishing to begin or refine a “more structured examination of teaching and student learning” (p. 3) in his or her classroom. An introductory chapter, nine case studies, and a summary provide the conceptual framework, examples of the work in action, and useful tips for getting started. This book is an excellent, coherent combination of theory, example, and instruction that demystifies the process of classroom inquiry.
The authors have chosen to address readers (college teachers) directly in language that anticipates concerns and questions about the process of inquiry. The teachers profiled in the case studies present their work in a similarly personal way.
In Chapter 1, “A Guide for Scholarly Inquiry into Teaching,” the authors situate classroom inquiry within the ongoing discussion of “scholarly teaching,” “teaching as scholarship,” and the “scholarship of teaching and learning,” and provide a detailed description of their model. Through classroom inquiry, effective teachers can become scholarly teachers; by posing and studying teaching and learning problems in a structured way, they fulfill the promise of Boyer’s (1990) vision of a scholarship of teaching.
Although the nine-step model the authors propose “mirrors the approach one typically applies to disciplinary-based scholarly research” [End Page 420] (p. 6), they are careful to distinguish scholarly teachers from scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) researchers: the former, they say, may begin and remain locally focused, using “reflection, inquiry, testing, and evaluation to examine and improve their own teaching, to increase their students’ learning and to contribute to broader conversations about teaching at their school” (p. 4; emphasis mine).
SoTL researchers, they propose, go further by knowing and citing the literature on teaching and learning, relating it to discipline-specific issues, and publishing and sharing their work with disciplinary or teaching community audiences in order to expand discussion on teaching and student learning more broadly.
I found this distinction somewhat dubious since both scholarly teaching and SoTL research can and should lead to improved practice and better student learning. It would be hard to disagree with the inquiry model itself, however. The nine steps, listed here because they form the core of the book, are:
1. Reflecting on course background, history, and development
2. Identifying an issue to investigate
3. Defining an inquiry hypothesis (or question(s)
4. Developing an investigative plan
5. Relating the inquiry to what has been done before
6. Seeking institutional approval and student consent
7. Teaching the course (and collecting data)
8. Interpreting and evaluating the findings
9. Reflecting on the inquiry process (drawing conclusion and recommendations)
Steps 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9 are the most important, although the authors appropriately point out that teachers new to the process of inquiry will not want to skip the others. If the journey toward scholarly teaching starts with interest in what is happening in my classroom, steps 1 and 2 seem especially essential. Each step is liberally glossed with a variety of useful questions, resources, and suggestions (identified as “exhibits”) that would make it possible for an individual to undertake a successful inquiry project. The authors correctly recommend, however, consulting and working with peers.
I particularly appreciated the primacy given to the act of reflection; it lies at the beginning and end of the inquiry process. Reflection plays a crucial role in what the authors call a journey toward scholarly teaching. Inquiry is indeed not just a one-time task but rather a perspective on how we approach our work; teaching and learning are ongoing sources of interesting, challenging questions.
Chapters 2 through 10 provide nine case studies of classroom inquiry that ask a wide range of questions from nine different disciplines. Each case study is presented in the words of the teacher, who leads the reader through the course and the...