What has Inquiry Based Learning got to do with Learning and Teaching in a Business School and beyond?

Author/Producer Margaret Page
Published in Autumn 2008 newsletter
Date Published 24 November 2008
Pages 2


Margaret Page form the University of the West of England writes about how IBL is becoming embedded in students learning


In June 2008 two tutors and three student researchers from Bristol Business School met at Bristol Parkway station to travel up to the LTEA conference in Sheffield.

The LTEA conference was a first for us in many ways. For students this was a first academic conference. For tutors it was a first LTEA conference and a first co-presentation with students. As we travelled we shared experiences of conferences, life and travelling while completing preparation for our co-presentation, and deciding what other workshops to attend. Our feeling was one of excited anticipation, and this is reflected in the pictures we took along the way.

Our presentation was at the end of the first day. Planned as a dialogue between presenters, the audience warmed to the students and the dialogue expanded naturally as the audience became participants. We seemed to succeed in evoking some of the qualities of our inquiry based learning (IBL) approach – students took delight in the response from participants and some of these remarked on the sense of enjoyment the students conveyed. The opportunity to engage with others as peers outside our own faculty and university was affirming and celebratory for tutors and students. The variety of opportunity for informal and more structured discussion in workshops and over meals was enjoyable and novel. Seeing the many ways that IBL is practiced in different learning and teaching contexts has helped students and tutors to locate their own experience in a wider field, and draw from this experience to develop practice within their own context.

What was this context? Our journey at UWE had begun long three years earlier, when we first introduced IBL into Managing Change, a single final year module in Bristol Business School. While some students enjoyed the approach, others experienced it as an additional hurdle to achieving a good degree. Challenge from students has enabled tutors on this module to introduce practices such as reflective writing, a field trip to an art gallery and research skills to support student learning and to ensure that IBL is embedded in assessment criteria.

A small group of students conducted their own research into the variety of different ways that students engage with IBL in the module. They found that while some students prefer a more instrumental approach to learning and change, others enjoy the discovery of their own capacity to make meaning from reflection on experience. Tutors have found that student feedback and challenge enables ongoing reinvention of methods to develop and sustain the IBL approach.

While we are located in a Business School, we suggest that many aspects of our experience are more widely relevant. Student feedback indicates that their engagement with IBL required them to learn on two levels: they were learning about the subject or topic of each module, and they were learning to learn in a different way. IBL requires students to engage with the subject matter from a stance driven by their own curiosity, developing the art of asking questions as a means of developing and asserting an evolving critical stance.

I now find myself utilising IBL in my own personal life, too. This is because I want to make sense of the situations, which can be interpreted as learning from experience. Sophie Hayward, student researcher.

Student researchers have made their own links between their experience of the IBL approach and participation in the conference.

The material learned during the year can easily be applied to my own personal life and work life. During my job interviews for example, I was asked about my student research and presentation at the conference: what research did you do? How was it relevant? How did you feel presenting? How did you work as a group? I was also asked about Wiki and how it works. The interviewer mentioned that they were considering using that for their business. In a sense it gave me prestige when I was asked questions about it and discussed the conference as an example to back up my answers to the questions. Mariana Lukaj, student researcher.

Students and tutor researchers are still in contact and seeking opportunities to extend the research with the new student cohort. We have written in more detail about our approach - and this will be appearing as a research paper later this year.