Take5: It’s week two, I’m on my knees – but here’s a post on Inquiry Based Learning!




Assessment Feedback and Course Design, Study Skills

Last week we met our new students – typically faced with lecture theatres full of unknown faces – exuding anxiety – or hiding their stress behind faces of studied nonchalance – or boredom – or both! Adrenalin and cortisol levels were flying high – everybody’s brains shrank to the size of a pea and panic ensues as we realise that we have forgotten everything – remembered nothing – impostors all.

So – the Take5 question for us was, could we find a different way to introduce a module that did not involve us telling and the students forgetting everything we said… and we felt that we had some of the answer in Inquiry Based Learning – taking a little detour through Object Based Learning.

Inquiry Based Learning (IBL): as the name suggests – encourages a more curiosity-driven approach to teaching and learning.  Proponents of this approach recommend that we:

  1. Are flexible
  2. Foster inquiry by scaffolding curiosity
  3. Design a course architecture for participation
  4. Teach the students, not the subject
  5. Provide opportunities for experiential learning
  6. Embrace failure as part of the learning process
  7. Are not boring – and that we
  8. Foster joy.

Object Based Learning: Similarly, using Objects to provoke inquiry when teaching encourages students to generate questions – to explore a topic – to develop their own understanding in a very immersive way. We could say that introducing Objects for students to explore is one way to scaffold inquiry.

Our Leader Our Object

So – in our module, instead of telling the students about the module – we asked them to produce questions that they would like to ask. The group collectively produced 20 questions for the module leader (who bravely acted as our object for the day) – and they were great – ranging from ‘How will we be assessed… and how many assessments are there on the course?’ through ‘What is a workshop… what is the ‘inquiry’ part of the course – is the course more practical or more theory based?’ … ‘What is an educationalist – how is an educationalist different from a teacher’ … ‘What’s more important – the government or the student?’ … ‘Why study education… and can an educationalist change society?’ (Yes we can!) … ‘What is a peer mentor?’

By the end of the morning – and through the magic of discussion – we’d covered the course, its design, the assessments, some hopes and fears … (Um… we’re going to have to do a PERFORMANCE?!?!) – and doled out packets of porridge.

What others have done:

Frank Marsh –Intel & Law Enforcement

I have found the best way to teach critical thinking [is through OBL/IBL] . Pair your students up and then put an object in front of your class and tell them they have two minutes to write down 20 questions about that object. Why? Critical thinking is directly connected to the quantity and quality of the questions we ask. If I ask you a question and you give me an answer you are not thinking but regurgitating info. If I ask you a question and you ask me back 2 questions now I know you are thinking. Now take a topic your class is working on and give each group 2 minutes to write down 20 questions about that topic. Now give them 10 minutes to sort and organize their questions into 3 groups. Next ask them to answer their questions. Next ask them to organize their answers into a presentation.

A bit more about Objects and Inquiry

If you are interested in Object Based Learning you might want to check out UCL’s website – they offer opportunities for working with students across the curriculum (get your hands on their Dodo bones!):


If you are interested but do not think that you can make the physical museums – check out their e-resources:


If you are already using OBL/IBL in your practice – please tell us about it – share your tips and tricks!!


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