Queen's University

Queen's University Queen's University



Academic Plan

The Student Learning Experience

In a research intensive university, the student learning experience must be the experience of the researcher. A researcher has a question to be answered, a problem to be solved, a relationship to be understood, a behaviour to be analyzed, or a task to be undertaken. In this process, information will be needed, and academic skills will be required to interpret and organize what has been gathered.

The basic relationship of the researcher to the problem or task is one of active inquiry, and that is the mode of learning we wish to promote among our students. Such an approach is variously called, active learning, problem-based learning, or constructive learning, but we will refer to it as inquiry-based learning.

We help our students to formulate problems or tasks, and they solve or execute them in their own way, individually, in teams, consulting with faculty and teaching assistants (TAs), interacting at the right moment with different kinds of library resources, books, articles and internet sites with the aim of creating a final product for dissemination.

An inquiry-based curriculum has a number of components. Lectures form an important part of the experience. A good lecture can effectively prepare the student for an investigation – its history and its larger context. It can even start the process off, making some initial progress, running into obstacles, searching for a way around or an entirely new approach. Lecturing is in fact modeling, and what the students need more than anything, are snapshots of the process of inquiry.

However, the real learning, the deep analysis, and the struggle for insight and understanding are the result of time spent individually or with a small group of peers. During this intensive process, the students should have access to a full range of resources and support services and be guided and supervised by instructors or TAs. Collaboration and different forms of peer tutoring would enrich the learning experience in different ways.

Towards the end of this focused and intense process of inquiry, the lecture can once again play a critical role, bringing the class back together, reinterpreting the journey, connecting important ideas that have emerged from the inquiry, providing a new level of understanding.

Furthermore, we have identified a set of academic skills that are fundamental to the inquiry-based learning process. They include:

  • critical reading
  • effective writing and communication
  • numeracy
  • inquiry
  • critical thinking
  • problem solving

We must emphasize that these skills are intimately interconnected and that their development lies at the heart of the academic enterprise. Indeed they fit closely the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents’ “Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Level Expectations” and, as a set, they represent, the fundamental “outcomes” of a Queen’s degree.

We point out that inquiry-based learning is already a significant objective of most undergraduate programs and is standard fare in graduate curricula where the intent is to develop the tools to form new questions and to develop testable hypotheses to further our knowledge.

Queen’s excellent array of academic support services ­­– the Queen’s Learning Commons, the Library, the Centre For Teaching and Learning, and the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) – can play, or continue to play, a significant supporting role in the design and delivery of this inquiry-based curriculum and in particular in the enhancement of these fundamental academic skills.

Developing Communication Skills and Fostering Students as Writers

All Queen’s students should graduate with an ability to communicate their expertise effectively in speech and in writing. Communication skills thus need to be addressed early and receive continuing attention with writing requirements in every year of study.

The capacities to read or listen with critical understanding and to reformulate are skills intimately connected with communication and learning, effective thinking, and academic integrity.

Academic integrity needs to be fostered at its rootsby enabling students in the communication skills and discursive conventions appropriate to their chosen fields of study.

The intimate linkage between communication skills, learning, and academic integrity means that university students need to learn not just general communication skills but also disciplinary writing, i.e., the discursive/communicative practices appropriate to their specializations.

To improve the quality of student writing at Queen’s, the Writing Centre, the University’s most important academic resource for teaching writing, will have to be able to enhance its service as both a centre for general writing instruction and as a facilitator for the distributed, discipline-specific, teaching of writing within departments.

Finally, our student body itself is a tremendous resource. Queen’s students form an active and vital social community, and the inquiry-based approach with its collaborative nature will foster an equally lively academic community. This is all the more important in view of the increasing heterogeneity and diversity of our students.

An inquiry-based curriculum will also provide graduate students with opportunities to develop pedagogical and teaching skills as an essential part of their graduate training. Graduate students may thus also play an important role in teaching fundamental academic skills.

In an increasingly diverse and competitive world, the assessment and marking of student work requires creative rethinking as well.

As part of all this, instructors must carefully assess the material in their curricula and ensure that they have allowed their students enough time for inquiry and independent learning. Rather than produce Queen's graduates who know less, we believe that our students will be better prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive and globalized world.

We must also continue to foster the spirit of student service and extra-curricular activities on campus, and in particular, increase our efforts to link these to learning.