Students in a Worcester State University summer chemistry class

Guided Inquiry Is a Low-Tech Way to Engage Students in Learning

July 1, 2016
By: WSU News

In an education environment that’s becoming more technological, some higher education teachers look for ways to engage students in the learning process that still rely on paper, pen, and group conversations.

Professor of Chemistry Anne Falke is one of them, and she demonstrated her approach in a workshop during Worcester State University’s recent Summer Institute. Rather than stand before her colleagues and give a lecture on Process Oriented Guided Inquiry, or POGIL, Falke sat them in groups of four at tables with printouts of the periodic table.

Each group had a leader, recorder, reflector, and presenter. Their assignment was to complete the periodic table. It’s a typical class assignment for Falke’s chemistry students.

“You don’t need to know any chemistry to do this,” she said. “In fact, it’s better that you don’t know any chemistry. The answers are there.”

Once they were done, Falke talked about the POGIL methodology.

“I try to make the students a little more responsible for their learning,” she said. “Students have a really hard time with chemistry so we’re always racking our heads to figure out ways to teach it.”

POGIL keeps her students actively engaged and helps them develop their research and analytical skills.

“They have to discover the facts, and it encourages a deeper level of learning. They need to know this for other classes because chemistry builds on itself. Students also develop key process skills through the mastery of course content,” Falke added. “Student buy-in to this method is very important.”

It follows the learning cycle, which starts with concept exploration, where students do the work, followed by concept invention (definitions), and then applying the concept by answering harder questions, she explained. Students finish the assignment questions on their own as homework, and she gives a quiz at the next class “to make sure they mastered it.”

This method can be applied in other disciplines, Falke said.

Research shows that the traditional lecture-style approach to teaching is effective for only 10 to 15 percent of students, she noted. Meanwhile, data from a study of Washington College students showed that POGIL significantly improved student grades.

The 2016 Summer Institute was sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning and the provost’s office, and organized by the CTL Advisory Board and the Summer Institute Planning Committee.

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