22 SES 05 A, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
Although applied across the world not only in Higher Education but also in many contexts from Kindergarten to K12-Education the effectiveness of teaching arrangements based on the principles of instruction based on inquiry (Loyens & Rikers, 2011) have undergone much scrutiny both from the empirical al well as from the philosophical side: Whilst proponents not only stress its efficacy for dimensions like study-motivation, acquisition of key competencies or problem-solving ability, it’s opponents tend to argue that there is no value added by teaching with inquiry-based principles, whilst costs of teaching in small tutorial groups using authentic cases and following an elaborate scaffolding technique are exceeding its benefits. Especially a lack of advantage is seen when it comes to knowledge acquisition, which is still seen as the most potent and prominent indicator of success in teaching.
There is considerable evidence that in teaching formats following inquiry-based principles the structure of what is learned differs from the one in traditional lecture-based formats (Roters & Scholkmann 2009; Gijbels et al. 2005). Knowledge acquisition has to be considered not only as the amount but also as the structure or what is learned: For example, Dahlgren & Marton (1978) observed that students’ explanation of a concept from the discipline of Economics differed with respect to how ‘relative’ the perspective was, that is, whether students were able to produce a multidimensional explanation instead of a uni-dimensional one (cf. p. 33f). As was demonstrated in other experiments, the mastery of explaining phenomena multi-dimensionally was signified by procedures which related pieces of knowledge, forming a dynamic instead of a static knowledge base (Dahlgren, 1997). The observation of qualitatively different structures in which knowledge is organized at different levels was prominently taken into account in Biggs’ SOLO-levels (Biggs and Collis 1982) with higher levels indicating a more flexible knowledge base.
Besides knowledge acquistion also self-rated gains in competencies have a distinct place in the evaluation of university teaching: for example, competencies are one of the variables predicting further vocational success through provision of high adaptability to new situations (Rychen & Salganik, 2001), and they are strongly connected with the features and opportunities a learning environment provides.
Within a research project funded by the German Ministry for Education and Science we set out gain insights into to the question which advantages teaching following inquiry-based principles can yield with respect to knowledge acquisition as well as self-rated gains in key-competencies. Since there is a considerable amount of variation amongst the teaching arrangements, which fall under this paradigm, we decided to focus on Problem-Based learning (PBL) (Loyens et al. 2012) as the most elaborate and structured example. Research outline and approach of this project have been discussed at two previous ECER-conferences (2008 and 2009) and this paper aims to share final results.
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