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Technological Advances
in Inquiry Learning
Ton de Jong

Computer simulations enhance inquiry-based learningin which students actively discover

informationby allowing scientific discovery within a realistic setting.

he promise offered by inquiry learning effective inquiry learning. Using simulations process and the developing knowledge).

T is tempered by the problems students

typically experience when using this
approach. Fortunately, integrating supportive
to model a phenomenon or process, students
can perform experiments by changing vari-
ables (such as resistances in an electrical cir-
However, research indicates that, overall,
students have substantial problems with all of
the inquiry processes listed above (8). Students
cognitive tools with computer simulations cuit) and then observe the effects of their have difficulty choosing the right variables to
may provide a solution. changes (e.g., the current). In this way, stu- work with, they find it difficult to state testable
dents (re-)discover the properties of the under- hypotheses, and they do not necessarily draw
Learning by Inquiry lying model (Ohms law). the correct conclusions from experiments.
Studies of young students knowledge and They may have difficulty linking experimental
skills indicate that many students in large The Inquiry Process data and hypotheses, because their pre-existing
parts of the world are not optimally prepared Inquiry learning mimics authentic inquiry. ideas tend to persist even when they are con-
for the requirements of society and the work- [There are some exceptions, such as the origin of fronted with data that contradict those ideas (9).
place (1). To meet the research question, Students also struggle with basic experimental
this challenge, curric- the number of (known) processes. They find it difficult to translate the-
ula should be de- variables, and the pres- oretical variables from their hypothesis into
signed to help stu- ence of flaws in data manipulable and observable variables in the
dents learn how to (6).] Because they are experiment (10); they design ineffective exper-
regulate their own closely related, they iments, for example, by varying too many vari-
learning, how to con- share the following ables at one time (11); they may use an engi-
tinue to gain new constitutive cognitive neering approach, where they try to achieve a
knowledge, and how processes (7): orienta- certain state in the simulation instead of trying
to update their exist- tion (identification of to test a hypothesis (12); they fail to make pre-
ing knowledge. variables and rela- dictions; and they make mistakes when inter-
Inquiry learning is tions); hypothesis gen- preting data (13). Students also tend to do only
def ined as an ap- eration (formulation of short-term planning and do not adequately
proach to learning that a statement or a set of monitor what they have done (14).
involves a process of
exploring the natural Supporting the Inquiry Process
or material world, and Research in inquiry learning cur-
that leads to asking rently focuses on finding scaffolds
questions, making dis- or cognitive tools that help to alle-
coveries, and rigorously testing viate these problems and produce
those discoveries in the search for effective and efficient learning sit-
new understanding (2). This uations. Computer environments
means that students adopt a scien- can integrate these cognitive tools
tific approach and make their own with the simulation. Examples of
discoveries; they generate knowl- cognitive tools are assignments
edge by activating and restructur- (exercises that set the simulation
ing knowledge schemata (3). in the appropriate state); explana-
Inquiry learning environments also tions and background informa-
ask students to take initiative in the A SimQuest application on the physics of moments. Students can change the tion; monitoring tools (to help stu-
learning process and can be offered two forces acting on the people (F) and the distances to the center of the seesaw dents keep track of their experi-
in a naturally collaborative setting (a) and discover the effect on the moment (M). ments); hypothesis scratchpads
with realistic material. (software tools to create hypothe-
The idea of inquiry, or discovery, as a statements, perhaps as a model); experimenta- ses from predefined variables and relations);
learning approach has a long history (4, 5). tion (changing variable values, making predic- predefined hypotheses; experimentation
Now, technological developments such as tions, and interpreting outcomes); reaching con- hints (such as vary one thing at a time or
computer simulations can implement more clusions (on the validity of the hypothesis); eval- try extreme values); process coordinators
uation (reflection on the learning process and the (which guide the students through the com-
The author is at the Faculty of Behavioral Sciences,
acquired knowledge); planning (outlining a plete inquiry cycle); and planning tools.
University of Twente, Enschede 7500AE, Netherlands. schedule for the inquiry process); and monitor- Overviews can be found in (7) and (15); exam-
E-mail: a.j.m.dejong@utwente.nl ing (maintaining an overview of the inquiry ples of integrated inquiry systems are

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SimQuest applications (16), Co-Lab (17), psychology, for instance, simulations have mod- effective in acquiring intuitive, deep, concep-
GenScope (18), and Inquiry Island (19). eled Pavlovian (classical) conditioning, where tual knowledge; direct instruction and prac-
One example from a SimQuest application an organism learns to relate one event to another tice can be used for more factual and proce-
explores the physics of moments (see the fig- previously unrelated event (25, 26) (see the dural knowledge. Ultimately, we want stu-
ure on page 532) (20). Support is offered in the figure below). dents to gain a well-organized knowledge
form of an assignment that asks students A number of research issues still lie ahead. base that allows them to reason and solve
to explore the balance of the seesaw by First, the introduction of cognitive tools may problems in the workplace and in academic
changing variables. Another available aid is a lead to overly complex learning environments settings. Finding the right balance between
hypothesis scratchpad that lets students build that hinder learning by requiring too much inquiry learning and direct instruction, there-
expressions from variables (e.g., force F1, working memory capacity. Ways to reduce this fore, is a major challenge.
distance a1, and moment M1) and relations extraneous cognitive load, such as by integrat-
(e.g., increases) to cre- References and Notes
1. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
ate testable hypotheses
Development, Learning for Tomorrows WorldFirst
(e.g., if F1 increases, Results from PISA 2003 (OECD, Paris, 2004).
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Most experimental Thoughts, Views, and Strategies for the K-5 Classroom
evaluations of cogni- (NSF, Arlington, VA, 2000), vol. 2, pp. 15
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to different experimen- 1938).
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sured include the ac- Environments, J. Elen, R. E. Clark, Eds. (Elsevier Science,
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students who are re- trials and can offer the dog a sausage, ring the bell, and/or light the lamp and Advanced Technology Educational Software: Toward Cost-
quested to think aloud then observe the salivation of the dog. In this way, they explore principles of con- Effective Production of Adaptive, Interactive, and
during learning. The ditioning, second-order conditioning, and extinction. Intelligent Educational Software, T. Murray, S. Blessing,
most effective learn- S. Ainsworth, Eds. (Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht,
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ing results are found with tools that structure the ing representations (27), are being investigated. 17. W. R. van Joolingen, T. de Jong, A. W. Lazonder, E.
learning process, provide students with pre- Another challenge lies in adapting the learning Savelsbergh, S. Manlove, Comput. Human. Behav. 21,
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cient experimentation (7, 15, 21). For example, Learning environments could use fading, in 20. The full interactive example, including hypothesis
students offered simulations and assignments per- which cognitive tools gradually disappear so scratchpad, is available online (www.simquest.nl).
formed better in tests of intuitive knowledge of that the learner can ultimately take over the 21. M. C. Linn, P. Bell, E. A. Davis, in Internet Environments
for Science Education, M. Linn, E. A. Davis, P. Bell, Eds.
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(Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, 2004), pp.
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The Road Ahead further challenge is to find ways to combine 25. C. D. Hulshof, T. H. S. Eysink, S. Loyens, T. de Jong,

Unguided inquiry is generally found to be an collaborative learning and inquiry learning Interactive Learn. Environ. 13, 39 (2005).
ineffective way of learning (24). Reviewing (17, 29). Specific tools to structure the collab- 26. The classical conditioning example is available online
classical research in three areas of learning oration and sharing of (intermediate) models (http://zap.psy.utwente.nl/english/).
27. J. Sweller, J. J. G. van Merrinboer, F. Paas, Ed. Psych.
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and programming conceptsMayer (3) con- oped. Students may also be offered the oppor- 28. K. H. Veermans, W. R. van Joolingen, T. de Jong, Int. J.
cluded that guided discovery learning is effec- tunity to create informal models (17). Such a Sci. Ed. 28, 341 (2006).
tive. These guided inquiry environments are facility helps them to articulate intuitive 29. T. Okada, H. A. Simon, Cog. Sci. 21, 109 (1997).
30. In part sponsored by Netherlands Organization for
starting to enter educational practice, espe- knowledge and at the same time gives them a Scientific Research (NWO/PROO), the Information Society
cially for ages 14 and up, and large-scale eval- specific task to complete. Technologies (IST) priority of the European Community (the
uations are promising (18). Mostly physical Sound curricula combine different forms Kaleidoscope Network of Excellence), and Stichting SURF.
science topics have been tested, but inquiry of tuition, both inquiry learning and direct
environments have been used in other areas. In instruction. Inquiry learning may be more 10.1126/science.1127750

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