Asking Inquiry Questions

Inquiry questions in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) often fall into one of the categories in Pat Hutchings’ (2000) Taxonomy of Questions, although the taxonomy is not exhaustive. Hutchings identifies four types of questions (pp. 4-5):

  • “What works” questions: Inquiry into the effectiveness of teaching practices and pedagogical approaches
    • Example: Do students learn more when they have to teach the content to their peers than when they only have to summarize it for their own use?
    • Example: Do students demonstrate more mastery of content in a flipped class than they do in a lecture-only class?
  • “What is” questions: Descriptive inquiry about students’ learning, students’ prior knowledge, characteristics of a pedagogical approach, a problem a teacher has encountered in a classroom, etc.
    • Example: What prior writing knowledge do my students bring to my first-year writing course?
    • Example: What characteristics do literature classes, which require students to read outside of class in preparation for classroom discussions, share with video-based flipped classes?
  • Visions of the possible: Inquiry focused on what might be
    • Example: What would happen if I used a Reacting to the Past game to help students understand the social-political context of ancient Greece?
    • Example: How might a systematic reflection activity completed when I return graded work prompt students to apply the feedback they receive to future class assignments?
  • Formulating new conceptual frameworks: Models and frameworks that lead to new inquiry questions
    • Example: What themes emerge from studies on reflection that might help us understand students’ development of metacognitive awareness?
    • Example: What might systematic analysis of student bottlenecks tell us about troublesome knowledge in the discipline?

In the following video, SoTL scholars describe their own SoTL Projects. Mathilde van der Merwe describes a “What is” question; she and her colleagues sought to understand what students coping strategies are as they navigate their education using their second language. Peter Felten describes a project that started with a “What is” question about how students make sense of images as visual sources; it evolved into a formulation of a new conceptual framework of how students understand images as sources. Finally, Ketevan Kupatadze shares a “what is” question about students’ transfer of knowledge.


References and Additional Resources

  • Hutchings, Pat. (2000). Introduction: Approaching the scholarship of teaching and learning. In Pat Hutchings (Ed.), Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning (pp. 1-10). Menlo Park, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  • McKinney, Kathleen. (2007). Enhancing learning through the scholarship of teaching and learning: The challenges and joys of juggling. San Francisco, CA: Anker Publishing.