Higher Education

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 557–571 | Cite as

Contexts for questioning: two zones of teaching and learning in undergraduate science

  • Helena Pedrosa-de-JesusEmail author
  • Betina da Silva Lopes
  • Aurora Moreira
  • Mike Watts


Higher education institutions are currently undertaking a challenging process in moving from teacher-orientated to student-focused approaches. Students’ ability to asking questions is fundamental to developing critical reasoning, and to the process of scientific enquiry itself. Our premise is that questioning competences should become a central focus of current reforms in higher education. This study, part of a broader naturalistic research project, aims at developing a theoretical framework for conceptualizing different contexts for questioning, illustrating the application of the proposed framework (contextual questioning zones) and reflecting about some of the dimensions of teaching and learning, for overcoming some of the challenges that higher education institutions are facing presently. The discussion of two ‘opposite’ contexts of enquiry is based on qualitative data, gathered through close collaboration with four teachers of undergraduate biology at a Portuguese university. These teachers were observed during their ‘daily activity’ during an academic year. Data was also gathered by interviewing these teachers and 8 selected students, at the end of the year, and used to sustain the argumentation. The paper concludes with some reflections and suggestions to promote authentic enquiry-based learning experiences.


Undergraduate teaching Learning Contexts for questioning Biology 



We acknowledge the financial support of Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (POCI/CED/59336/2004; SFRH/BD/27871/2006; SFRH/BD/44611/2008). We also thank Professors A. Almeida, A. Correia, F. Gonçalves and S. Mendo, and all the students involved in the project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helena Pedrosa-de-Jesus
    • 1
    Email author
  • Betina da Silva Lopes
    • 1
  • Aurora Moreira
    • 1
  • Mike Watts
    • 2
  1. 1.Research Centre for Didactics and Technology in Teacher Education, Department of EducationUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  2. 2.School of Sport and EducationBrunel UniversityLondonUK

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