Survey of Inquiry-Based Learning at Rice

Fall 2016: Survey of Inquiry-Based Learning at Rice

In November 2016, we administered a survey of inquiry-based learning to all instructors who taught undergraduate courses in fall 2015, spring 2015, and fall 2016. Nearly 50% of instructors responded in numbers representative of faculty rank and school and provided data on 1001 courses representative of course level by school. We supplemented this survey with discussions with faculty and administrative staff. The primary findings are as follows:

There is a significant amount of inquiry-based learning occurring at Rice.

67% of the 1001 courses were identified as inquiry based. This percentage was higher in Architecture, Humanities, Music, and Social Sciences and lower in Engineering and Natural Sciences.

We are not offering the opportunity for students to develop the most sophisticated inquiry skills. The level of inquiry-based learning was measured by a set of questions grounded in the University of Adelaide Undergraduate Research Development Framework and Healy 2005. The survey asked whether students are exposed to closed- or open-ended questions, the degree of student independence in framing, addressing, and evaluating questions in the discipline, and the degree to which the inquiry was intended to generate new knowledge in the field. The table below reports the mean scores for each question by course level. The survey revealed that courses overall skew towards the development of more introductory level skills. This finding holds true across all schools. When courses are sorted by course number, there is a progressive shift from a focus on introductory to more advanced inquiry skills. Yet a quarter of 400-level courses remain close-ended inquiry, and overall 400-level courses develop skills skewed towards an intermediate level.

Mean Scores for Each Question by Course Level
Question Type Level
100 200 300 400


Closed (1)

Open-ended (2)

1.63 1.49 1.66 1.77


Faculty framed (1)

Faculty/student (2)

Student framed (3)

1.76 1.78 2.02 2.19


Faculty initiated (1)

Faculty/student (2)

Student initiated (3)

1.83 1.93 1.99 2.26


Faculty prescribed (1)

Discipline prescribed (2)

Student prescribed (3)

1.84 1.99 2.18 2.23

Objectives of Synthesis/Analysis

Acquire knowledge (1)

Construct knowledge (2)

Fill knowledge gap (3)

1.77 1.78 2.00 2.09

Conversations with faculty similarly stressed students’ lack of preparation to conduct advanced inquiry work. The 2016 Senior Exit Survey revealed that 60% of graduating students participated in research or design during their career at Rice, yet only 9% of that class graduated with Distinction in Research, Design, and Creative Works. Moreover, faculty teaching inquiry courses highlighted the lack of follow-through opportunities for students, whether between courses or from a course to a co-curricular research experience.

Key Findings

More sophisticated inquiry occurs in contexts outside the classroom.

Forty-six per cent of courses include an inquiry-based component that occurs in a context outside the classroom, such as fieldwork, undergraduate research, service learning, and internships. Faculty doing inquiry outside the classroom provide more sophisticated inquiry at all course levels.

Faculty teaching inquiry outside the classroom most interested in a range of additional resources.

Funding for teaching resources and preparation time are the most sought resources across all faculty ranks. Tenure-track faculty ranked instructional support from graduate students third, while NTT faculty expressed interest in institutional recognition and workshops. Notably, faculty teaching inquiry outside the classroom expressed interested in all resources at rates two to four times that of faculty who teach inquiry only within the classroom context. Increased funding for teaching resources was the only resource of interest to those teaching in the classroom context.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty unlikely to employ inquiry-based learning if not doing so already.

For the 195 faculty who do not currently employ inquiry-based pedagogy, 43% reported that they would be open to employing inquiry-based learning if resources were available. NTTs were significantly more likely to be incentivized to employ inquiry-based learning than full-time faculty at a rate of two to one. Increased preparation time was cited as the primary incentive.

Academic support centers on campus have resources and ambition to work at scale. Conversations with support centers on campus (PWC, CCL, CTE, Fondren Library) identified exciting collaborative opportunities and partnerships with faculty but continuously revealed the desire to move beyond one-off relationships with inpidual faculty in order to scale offerings and enhance impact on student learning.