Challenging Oxford to Greater Academic Excellence

By Ansley Holder

Portrait

Jeff Galle

What is inquiry-guided learning (INQ)?

In inquiry-guided learning, students learn, examine, and practice the methods of the discipline in which they are working. They learn how knowledge is defined, evaluated, created, and employed in a specific discipline. Guided by the instructor, they are required to ask questions that are important to the discipline and then to seek answers using the methods of the discipline. Research shows that inquiry-guided learning produces durable, transferable learning, motivates students to become independent learners, and fosters creativity beyond the classroom.

Jeff Galle is associate professor of humanities and has served as director of the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) since 2008.

As its founding director, what’s your “elevator speech” to someone who asks what the CAE does?

The CAE is broadly named to connect to its varied constituent groups—students, faculty, and staff. Our programs include faculty workshops, working individually with faculty, and coordinating support materials. The primary focus for the past three years has been Oxford’s inquiry-based learning initiative, which we call INQ. The CAE also hosts the annual Institute for Pedagogy in the Liberal Arts, or IPLA, which exports Oxford’s love of teaching and its devotion to interaction with students, and it gets the name out there for Oxford College.

How does the CAE guide Oxford’s General Education Program?

The current General Education Program has two new components. The first is the addition in 2012 of an honors program. Students are invited during their second year, with about forty-five students selected to participate in one of three honors seminars. The second is the requirement that every student take three of the fifty-three INQ courses now offered.

Why does INQ fit in so well at a school like Oxford College?

What sets Oxford College apart from other institutions is its drive to engage students. The goal of INQ is not just for students to absorb facts and information; it’s to lead them into exploration. Let’s spark the question and then take them out to find answers to address that question rather than tell them what to learn.

How does INQ fit with your teaching style (or philosophy?)

I teach an INQ course in literary criticism. INQ is perfectly aligned with my teaching style, but is not always easy to do. It is a challenge because I have to give up control, to back away and let students discover instead of telling them exactly what I want them to learn. Let them stumble, think, and discover. It’s gratifying to see students get better at finding the magical moments in short stories rather than telling them what the magic part is.

What’s ahead for you and the CAE?

I will be serving over the next year on Emory’s Commission on the Liberal Arts. CAE will continue to support the scholarship of teaching and learning and support new faculty members, providing consultation and mirrored observations to enable pedagogy. Finally, we are planning an international inquiry-guided learning conference that will be part of IPLA 2014.

Email the editor