If not open inquiry now, then when?
Article Type: Letter to the editor
Author: MacKenzie, Ann Haley
Pub Date: 10/01/2009
Publication: Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685
Issue: Date: Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 71 Source Issue: 8
Accession Number: 246348895
Full Text: A Response to Eastwell and the Role of Open Inquiry in University Settings

According to Eastwell's (2009) definition: Inquiry Level 4 consists of: "Students answer their own questions using a methodology that they also devise themselves. Importantly I distinguished between the amount of direction provided to the students and the amount of guidance they receive, providing evidence for why unguided learning might be considered poor pedagogy" (p. 263).

In Eastwell's (2009) original article, he mentioned that Level 4 Inquiry and other lower levels of inquiry are "...distinguished between the amount of direction provided to the students and the amount of guidance they receive ..." (p. 263). It sounds to me that Eastwell is implying that any type of outside help or direction no longer makes it Level 4 Inquiry, because the fourth and highest level of Inquiry can only exist in a realm of isolation between the investigator(s) and other, perhaps more knowledgeable, individuals? Zion and Sadeh (2007) agree that "students are not expected to cope with the challenge of open inquiry on their own as teachers play a critical role in open inquiry learning" (p. 168). Assuming that guidance from other educated individuals is allowed, how is doctoral research not at the level of open inquiry? Or perhaps more importantly, why must open inquiry be regarded as "unguided learning" or as "poor pedagogy"?

According to Eastwell's definition, "students answer their own questions ..." (Eastwell, 2009). I believe that this first requirement is met in that the doctoral/graduate student must develop her or his own question whether it be if grass root lengths differ in fertilized and unfertilized populations, or if there is a scientific basis for the practice of Reiki.

If it can be agreed that this first condition is met, we can proceed to the second one "... using a methodology that they also devise themselves" (Eastwell, 2009). Is that meant to imply that only truly new and innovative methods for determining the validity of a scientific hypothesis are at the highest level of inquiry? If this is truly what is meant when Eastwell describes Level 4 Inquiry, then such inquiry is very rare. in the current scientific community for the simple fact that many popular and effective methodologies have been performed time and time again. Measuring the lengths of grass roots with a tape measure is certainly not an innovative method, but it is the only practical and effective method available to us. Assuming that this is not what Eastwell meant by that statement, and that the utilization of tried and true methodologies that are effective in the particular experiments does not exclude an activity from being considered at Level 4 Inquiry, then wouldn't any methodology that was chosen or developed by the initial investigator(s) satisfy that requisite assuming that the overseeing educator/advisor did not force such a methodology onto them?

If Eastwell agrees with this line of reasoning so far, then in what ways do graduate and doctoral research not satisfy the demands that he lays out for an activity to be considered at the highest level of inquiry? Perhaps I have in some way misunderstood what Eastwell considers to be the peak of inquiry, but if I have not, then it is clear to me that open inquiry plays a crucial role in any tertiary academic institution. After all, those professors who are teaching these undergraduate classes surely had to complete such a research activity to attain that degree, and thusly that position. If we as a society have deemed that open inquiry be one of the final tests before conferring such a desirable honor, doesn't that only further the case for utilizing open inquiry in the undergraduate classrooms that will give rise to the future Ph.D.s of the next generation so as to give them the preparation and experience in working with such levels of inquiry?

My question is what changes occur between middle school or high school and the university levels of education that make open inquiry inappropriate? Eastwell mentions that he is a staunch supporter for inquiry at the university level, and I applaud him for that, but why all of a sudden is open inquiry inappropriate at the undergraduate level when it is accepted for use at lower levels (elementary, middle, and high school) and, in my opinion, the higher levels of graduate and doctoral research? What is it about undergraduate research that would make us shy away from open inquiry? Perhaps it is our strongly instilled notion that undergraduate education consists of memorizing facts, writing out flashcards, and taking tests that we are unable to break away from it. I applaud Eastwell for his support of inquiry at the second and third levels, but if they have their place in the undergraduate curriculum, then why shouldn't the fourth? Settlage (2007) himself comments, "Myths are more powerful than we may realize because of their potential to influence others." Open inquiry isn't easy, but I refuse to believe in the quote of Friedrichsen's, that open inquiry is "absolutely unattainable," at the college level, (2008, p. 75). Settlage (2007) also reasoned that one of the benefits of a myth is that it "absolves all of those who believe in it." Perhaps we should be more concerned with how to effectively implement open inquiry into the undergraduate level that is so pervad ed with low-level thinking and memorization. After all, "inquiry is not simply a teaching tool, but a teaching goal" (Johnston, 2008, p.13).

Ann Haley MacKenzie

Miami University



Eastwell, P. (2009). Inquiry learning: Elements of confusion and frustration. The American Biology Teacher 7](5), p. 263-264.

Friedrichsen, P. (2008). A conversation with Sandra Abell: Science teacher learning. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science 8 Technology Education, 4(1), 71-79.

Johnston, A. (2008). Demythologizing or dehumanizing. A response to Settlage and the ideals of open inquiry. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19, 11-13.

Settlage, J. (2007). Demythologizing science teacher education: Conquering the false ideal of open inquiry. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 461-467.

Zion, M. & Sadeh, I. (2007). Curiosity and open inquiry learning. Journal of Biological Education, 41(4), 162-168.
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