Informatics Student Researches Inquiry-based Learning

Imagine a class where you’re the one in charge of what you learn and how you learn it. This is the foundation of inquiry-based learning, which is what Micah Miller-Eshleman, a sophomore Physics and Interdisciplinary (with emphasis on informatics, psychology and entrepreneurship) double major from Dover, Ohio, researched this summer along side Kent Palmer, associate professor of informatics.

This summer, Miller-Eshleman participated in Goshen College’s Maple Scholars program, which gives students the opportunity to participate in independent research projects alongside GC faculty of various disciplines. His research focused on improving the introductory informatics class.

Before the two began their research, Palmer and Miller-Eshleman attended the R.L. Moore Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference, named for the man who created a teaching method based on inquiry learning, featured talks and panels on the Moore method and its variants, how to apply it in a mathematics classroom, and the results seen by both students and teachers.

From there, Miller-Eshleman and Palmer thought about ways to incorporate this method into the informatics program.

“Inquiry-based learning is rooted in the belief that students learn best independently,” said Miller-Eshleman. This method allows students to struggle through their problems without a lot of guidance, and in the process, teach themselves the material.

One of the changes Miller-Eshleman helped make to the program was that he removed textbooks from the curriculum, and replaced them with an array of books for the students to choose from. The independence students get from inquiry based learning is especially good for informatics, he said, since the subject combines computer science with an interdisciplinary approach, where you can specialize in certain areas, like math or business. Having the chance to explore things on your own can help you figure out how you want to specialize, he said.

“This method has not often been used in computer science courses in the past, but it’s a great way to teach students to have passion for learning things on their own so they can get to the point where they really know the material,” he said.