Higher Education

, 58:841 | Cite as

Inquiry-based learning in higher education: administrators’ perspectives on integrating inquiry pedagogy into the curriculum

  • Christopher Justice
  • James Rice
  • Dale Roy
  • Bob Hudspith
  • Herb Jenkins


Inquiry-based learning is one approach to improving the quality of undergraduate education by moving toward more student-directed, interactive methods of learning while focusing on learning how to learn. This paper deals with a missing component in the inquiry-related literature—the extra-pedagogical challenges of introducing and maintaining inquiry-based learning in the curriculum. Based in the collective experience of McMaster University, a mid-size Canadian university that has been a pioneer in inquiry pedagogy, the paper describes the challenges administrators faced in supporting the introduction of inquiry-based learning as components of traditional courses, as inquiry-based courses, and as inquiry-based degree programs. Derived from interviews, the paper presents a series of strategies and lessons for introducing and maintaining inquiry pedagogy in the curriculum. These lessons will be broadly useful to administrators, curriculum designers and faculty developers and should be widely applicable to institutes of higher education.


Administration Curriculum Educational development Inquiry-based learning Higher education 



We gratefully acknowledge the input of Brian Baetz, Susan Elliot, Del Harnish, Alan Harrison, Erika Kustra, Virginia Lee, Evan Simpson, Peter Sutherland, Gary Warner, and Maryellen Weimer.


  1. Abdal-Haqq, I. (1998). Constructivism in teacher education: Considerations for those who would link practice to theory. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED426986). Retrieved February 20, 2006 from ERIC database:
  2. Armenakis, A., & Bedeian, A. G. (1999). Organizational change: A review of theory and research in the 1990s. Journal of Management, 25, 293–315. doi: 10.1177/014920639902500303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrett, S., Butler, J., Cates, E., deLottinville, C., Harnish, C., Jordana, M., et al. (2005). Skill development with students and explicit integration across four years of the curriculum. The Alan Blizzard award: An award for a collaborative projects that improves student learning. Whitby, Ontario: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.Google Scholar
  4. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  5. Brew, A. (1999). Research and teaching: Changing relationships in a changing context. Studies in Higher Education, 24(3), 291–301. doi: 10.1080/03075079912331379905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organizational analysis. Londres: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  7. Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3–7.Google Scholar
  8. Darke, P., Shanks, G., & Broadbent, M. (1998). Successfully completing case study research: Combining rigour, relevance and pragmatism. Information Systems Journal, 8, 273–289. Retrieved October 6, 2008 from
  9. Devos, G., Buelens, M., & Bouckenooghe, D. (2007). Contribution of content, context, and process to understanding openness to organizational change: Two experimental simulation studies. The Journal of Social Psychology, 147(6), 607–29. Retrieved September 25, 2008 from Research Library Core database (Document ID: 1428355511).Google Scholar
  10. Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching to benefit student learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(2), 183–201. doi: 10.1080/03098260500130387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hudspith, B., & Jenkins, H. (2001). Teaching the art of inquiry (Green Guide #3). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.Google Scholar
  12. Inglis, S., Sammon, S., Justice, C., Cuneo, C., Miller, S., Quirke, L., et al. (2004). Cross-cultural simulation to advance student inquiry. Simulation & Gaming: An International Journal of Theory, Practice and Research, 35, 476–487.Google Scholar
  13. Jenkins, H., Ferrier, B., & Ross, M. (Eds.). (2004). Combining two cultures: McMaster University’s arts and science programme, a case study. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  14. Justice, C., Rice, J., & Warry, W. (2009). Academic skill development—Inquiry seminars can make a difference: Evidence from a quasi-experimental study. International Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 3(1), 1–23.Google Scholar
  15. Justice, C., Rice, J., Warry, W., Inglis, S., Miller, S., & Sammon, S. (2007a). Inquiry in higher education: Reflections and directions on course design and teaching methods. Innovative Higher Education, 31(4), 201–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Justice, C., Rice, J., Warry, W., & Laurie, I. (2007b). Taking inquiry makes a difference—a comparative analysis of student learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 18(1), 57–77.Google Scholar
  17. Knapper, C. (2004). Research on college teaching and learning: Applying what we know. Background discussion paper prepared for the Teaching Professor Conference, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  18. Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge.Google Scholar
  19. Lee, V., Greene, D., Odom, J., Schechter, E., & Slatta, R. W. (2004). What is inquiry guided learning? In V. S. Lee (Ed.), Teaching and learning through inquiry: A guidebook for institutions and instructors. Sterling, VA: Stylus.Google Scholar
  20. Mahony, M. J., Wozniak, H., Everingham, F., Reid, B., & Poulos, A. (2003). Inquiry based teaching and learning: What’s in a name? In C. Bond & P. Bright (Eds.) Learning for an unknown future—research and development in higher education (Vol. 26), Higher Education Research & Development Society of Australasia Annual Conference, 6–9 July 2003, Christchurch, New Zealand.Google Scholar
  21. Maurer, D. (2007). Teaching inquiry at McMaster: Impact on the instructor. In C. K. Knapper (Ed.), Experiences with inquiry learning (pp. 81–88). Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University, Centre for Leadership in Learning.Google Scholar
  22. Palinscar, A. S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 345–375. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pettigrew, A. M. (1985). Contextualist research: A natural way to link theory and practice. In E. Lawler (Ed.), Doing research that is useful in theory and practice (pp. 222–249). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  24. Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education (2nd ed.). London: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  25. Roger, E. M., & Shoemaker, F. F. (1971). Communication of innovations: A cross-cultural approach (2nd ed.). New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  26. Suchman, J. R. (1961). Inquiry training: Building skills for autonomous discovery. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly of Behavior and Development, 7, 147–169.Google Scholar
  27. Tapscott, D. (2006). It’s not just what you know that counts, it’s how you think. Originally published in Globe and Mail, reprinted Saturday, June 3, 2006 online at
  28. Vas, A., & Lejeune, C. (2004). Revisiting resistance to change at the university: An interpretative approach, IAG working paper no 115. Retrieved September 25, 2008 from
  29. Weaver, F. S. (1989). Liberal education, inquiry, and academic organization. New Directions for Teaching and Learning; Promoting Inquiry in Undergraduate Learning, 38, 3–16.Google Scholar
  30. Zachary, W. H. (1985). How i kicked the lecture habit: Inquiry teaching in psychology. Teaching of Psychology (Columbia, Mo.), 12(3), 129–131. doi: 10.1207/s15328023top1203_3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Justice
    • 1
    • 2
  • James Rice
    • 1
  • Dale Roy
    • 1
  • Bob Hudspith
    • 1
  • Herb Jenkins
    • 1
  1. 1.McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.DuncanCanada

Personalised recommendations