Vocations and Learning

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 275–294 | Cite as

Student Learning Through Participation in Inquiry Activities: Two Case Studies in Teacher and Computer Engineering Education

  • Crina I. DamşaEmail author
  • Monika Nerland
Original Paper


The two case studies reported in this article contribute to a better understanding of how inquiry tasks and activities are employed as resourceful means for learning in higher professional education. An observation-based approach was used to explore characteristics of and challenges in students’ participation in collaborative inquiry activities in two first-year introductory courses in teacher and computer engineering education. The findings highlight that the students’ activities varied with regard to focus and structure and were shaped by the types of inquiry tasks, i.e. case analysis and project-based work, by how the inquiry process was guided and supported and the way the domain-specific knowledge resources and practices were introduced. An exploratory strategy and rather confined use of resources characterised the teacher education students’ inquiry, while collaborative programming, a trial-and-error approach and extensive use of external resources that of the engineering education students’. For the teacher students, the main challenge was to construct meaning of conceptual knowledge and to integrate different forms of knowledge as a lens for analysing practice. The computer engineering students experienced challenges with unpacking the underlying principles and knowledge black-boxed in the widely available resources. The article suggests that future research and curriculum designs should depart from a more refined understanding of inquiry as a learning means, by connecting inquiry activities to the specific knowledge domains, the type of tasks most suited to explore each of this domains and the challenges that may arise for students.


Higher professional education Collaborative learning Knowledge practices Knowledge resources Inquiry task Qualitative analysis 



We thank the reviewers for their constructive comments and the ExCid research group at the Faculty of Education, University of Oslo for the useful feedback on the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Grant Support

This research is conducted as part of the project Horizontal Governance and Learning Dynamics in Higher Education, funded by the Research Council of Norway under the FINNUT programme (2012–2016), grant no. 212,285.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of OsloBlindernNorway

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