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For Instructors

FYI offers many advantages to both faculty and departments. See the faculty information links below for details. FYI courses offer the following characteristics

  1. Enrollment is restricted to students in their first year of higher education
  2. Enrollment is restricted to 20 students
  3. Courses meet one (or more) of the university’s general education program (GEP) requirements

In 1996, the Hewlett Foundation invited NC State to submit a proposal dealing with general education at a research university. The Council on Undergraduate Education responded to this challenge. The application was successful and the Hewlett Initiative began its two-year program in the fall of 1997. One of the results of the Hewlett Initiative was a conviction felt by many of its participants that a first-year seminar, in which students become genuine inquirers, could make a significant impact on subsequent general education experiences, as well as courses in the major. An FYI program seemed like a good way to begin changing the way students approach all their university courses, including large lecture courses.

First Year Inquiry pilot seminars began in the fall of 1999 with seven offerings, followed by three in the spring of 2000, seventeen in fall 2000, and eleven in spring 2001.

The purposes of the pilot are

  1. to see what difference these courses make in students’ overall learning;
  2. to learn how to integrate what students gain in this program with subsequent courses so that each student’s general education and major program are deepened; and,
  3. to identify problems involved in offering FYI courses and strategies for institutionalizing the program if it turns out to be valuable.

FYI courses seek to light the fire of intellectual curiosity in first-year undergraduates. The FYI classroom should be a first academic home for new freshmen where they feel they are respected for questioning assumptions and conventions and taking intellectual risks.

FYI faculty are committed to teaching their course using active learning, inquiry-guided teaching strategies, and helping students develop the following programmatic outcomes.

  • formulate questions/hypotheses to explore a concept, idea, or issue.
  • critically analyze and evaluate information.
  • integrate learning across contexts.
  • feel a sense of community with students in the class.
  • feel connected to the instructor of the class.

Any pedagogy that moves students toward these objectives is a good one.

The term “Inquiry-guided learning” captures a good deal of what an appropriate pedagogy looks like. This was the term that the Council on Undergraduate Education used in its successful grant application to the Hewlett Foundation, and it has served as the anchoring concept for the Hewlett Initiative. “Inquiry-guided learning” means that the class is conducted by working toward and on questions to which students really want to know the answer. And so faculty devote time, energy and attention to arousing students’ interest and eagerness for answers and directing the students toward them. FYI courses are in the spirit of and responsive to the 1996 position statement adopted by the Council on Undergraduate Education on “Increasing Student Responsibility for, Involvement in, and Commitment to Learning.

There is no one way to do inquiry-guided learning. What works for one faculty member may not work for others. Some of the possible ways are:

  • Strategies listed on the FYI instructor help page
  • Use of a challenging text. Student-generated questions about it. Faculty-generated questions on applying it
  • Break-out group (task-oriented small group discussions)
  • Student reports
  • Student journal of observations and questions
  • Guest speaker followed by a question-and-answer session
  • Use of the language of critical thinking such as “standards of critical thinking;” differences among facts, opinions, judgments

Many faculty combine several of these strategies in every class session. They can also be effectively combined with twenty or thirty minutes of straight lecturing. Students who are developing the habit of asking questions will continue to ask questions during lectures, and lectures themselves can be structured to foster the spirit of inquiry by continuously raising questions, sometimes leaving them temporarily unanswered.

Faculty who are interested in teaching an FYI section for the first time must submit a Faculty Interest Form.

All FYI faculty teaching in the fall semester will attend a faculty retreat, typically scheduled during April of the prior spring semester. The retreat will typically focus on student outcomes from the preceding fall semester, identifying goals for the upcoming semester, and sharing of teaching strategies to reach these goals. We also discuss what support current faculty desire over the semester. A small stipend is provided to participants of the retreat where funding is available.

Because one goal of the First Year Inquiry program is to provide the opportunity for first-year students to engage with a faculty member who might serve as a mentor or resource over the course of the students’ time at NC State, all FYI instructors must hold a faculty appointment (professional track or tenure track).

FYI faculty must be committed to teaching their course using active learning, inquiry-guided teaching strategies, and to help students develop the following programmatic outcomes.

  1. formulate questions/hypotheses to explore a concept, idea, or issue.
  2. critically analyze and evaluate information.
  3. integrate learning across contexts.
  4. feel a sense of community with students in the class.
  5. feel connected to the instructor of the class.

FYI faculty must also be committed to participating in the assessment of programmatic outcomes always designed in a manner that is not intrusive to the course.

FYI faculty agree to provide their class evaluation to the FYI director at the end of each semester the course is offered. This is important for assessment and continued funding of the program, as well as flagging successes or issues that could be focused on during faculty development.

Faculty wishing to offer an FYI course that is a new course must follow normal university procedures for proposing a new course prior to the offering. All FYI courses must fulfill a GEP requirement, and may not have prerequisites.

Departments may request a course buy-out of up to $5,000 for each FYI section.

If the FYI program has a lasting impact on its students, it will mean that even in large-enrollment courses they will continue to take charge of their learning. They will monitor their learning, and recognize when they are not understanding something. If they are bored and unmotivated, they will recognize it and have an idea of what to do about it. They will seek out courses and instructors that offer the kind of experience that their FYI course offered because they will want that experience to be reinforced and built upon

If the FYI program succeeds, it will be because it is part of a larger movement. Students seeking additional Inquiry-guided learning classes will be able to find them in their sophomore and junior courses because the two generations of Hewlett Scholars now includes over one hundred faculty who understand the principles of Inquiry-guided learning to make it work. This larger movement also now includes the Hewlett Challenge in which ten departments are studying the curriculum for their majors and reviewing one or two courses in view of both their curricular objectives for the major as a whole and the principles of Inquiry-guided learning. It seems reasonable to expect that ten models for building on the FYI experience are emerging in this process. This program is funded by a second grant from the Hewlett Foundation.

In September 2000, we received a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE, a grant program of the Department of Education) to plan an expanded assessment of all the emerging components of an emerging comprehensive IGL program. The first-year inquiry courses, general-education courses that use IGL pedagogy, and the inquiry-guided experiences within the major culminating in senior research and capstone-course projects.

This assessment aims at the extremely difficult task of doing longitudinal evaluation:

  • Is the FYI program really integrated with subsequent experiences and does the program as a whole make a measurable difference in students’ learning?

Impact on Students

If the FYI program pays off, it will mean that students really are getting more out of their whole general-education experience and are better prepared to be inquiring, self-motivated learners within their major programs.

  • they will pay a different kind of attention in classes that aren’t specifically designed as IGL
  • they will continue their growth as inquirers in subsequent general education courses
  • they will select courses that are inquiry-driven
  • they will be ready to begin research projects in their major field

Inquiry-guided learning (IGL) refers to an array of classroom practices that promotes student learning through guided and, increasingly, independent investigation of questions and problems for which there is no single answer. Rather than teaching the results of others’ investigations, which students learn passively, instructors assist students in mastering and learning through the process of active investigation itself.

This process involves the ability to formulate good questions, identify and collect appropriate evidence, present results systematically, analyze and interpret results, formulate conclusions, and evaluate the worth and importance of those conclusions. It may also involve the ability to identify problems, examine problems, generate possible solutions, and select the best solution with appropriate justification.
This process will differ somewhat among different academic disciplines.

Learning in this way promotes other important outcomes as well. It nurtures curiosity, initiative, and risk-taking. It promotes critical thinking. It develops students’ responsibility for their own learning and habits of life-long learning. And it fosters intellectual development and maturity: the recognition that ambiguity and uncertainty are inevitable, and in response, we must learn to make reasoned judgments and act in ways consistent with these judgments.

A variety of teaching strategies used singly, or more often in combination with one another, is consistent with Inquiry-guided learning: interactive lecture, discussion, group work, case studies, problem-based learning, service learning, simulations, fieldwork, and labs as well as many others.

In fact, the only method that is not consistent with IGL is the exclusive use of straight lecturing and the posing of questions for which there is only one correct answer.

In addition, because of the nature of the outcomes it promotes and the necessity for active engagement, Inquiry-guided learning must also involve writing and speaking both in classroom instruction and in the methods used to evaluate students. While Inquiry-guided learning is appropriate in all classes, it is most effective in small classes (i.e., approximately 20 students). It is particularly appropriate for first-year students who are forming habits of learning that they will exercise throughout their undergraduate years and beyond. Finally, the rest of the undergraduate curriculum should reinforce these early learning experiences.

Originated by The Hewlett Steering Committee, September 2000, last updated May 29, 2014