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Proposal Tips: Independent Inquiry

Below are the questions exactly as you will see them in the Flag Proposal System when you propose your course for an Independent Inquiry flag. Your responses to these questions should allow the faculty flag committee to make an informed decision regarding your proposal.

Question 1

Please describe how students will engage in independent investigation and presentation of their own work through the course. Please explain specifically how your course engages students in the process of inquiry in your discipline.

“Process” is the key word here: responses should explain how students engage in the inquiry process in a given field, through class assignments or other work. Here is a sample response, submitted by a faculty member from the Department of English:

Students conduct a research investigation based on real-world data collection. They submit a proposal, outline a research design, collect data, and write a final paper (in two drafts) analyzing their results. At the end of the course, students informally discuss their results with other members of the class.

Question 2

What kinds of projects, artifacts, presentations, or performances do your students produce as a result of engaging in this process of inquiry?

Explain what kinds of work students will produce as a result of the inquiry process. A faculty member from the Geological Sciences submitted the following description of the work students produce in a chemical hydrogeology course that centers around a field project related to Texas aquifers:

The students have three products from this course – a working spreadsheet model that they can adapt and use for any water geochemistry problem in their professional career, a consulting style report that they can use as part of their portfolio for job interviews, and the opportunity to state and defend their conceptual model to a professional in the field. The spreadsheet model is a long-standing tradition in the class, and I have heard from students from 15 years ago that they still use their model in their professions. Each spreadsheet is an individual work of artistry and cunning to make it do what they want it to do, and then they use it throughout the course and the project to understand their aquifer. This inserts a basic part of the scientific process into this project, that after stating a hypothesis they design the experiment (the model) to test that hypothesis. While this is somewhat constrained and externally dictated – I require the model as part of the grade, how they do it, and what they make it do, is entirely up to the individual and their own project requirements, and it is their ‘experimental apparatus’ for understanding the chemistry of their waters. The models are typically done in Excel, and are quite elaborate, with minimization routines, lookup tables, and macros. My requirement is that I am able to put in my own water into the database, and that it will calculate a set of required elements correctly. The project report itself is typically 15-20 pages, with additional space for tables and graphics. The report includes a variable amount of background material, often has GIS or other approaches to explain recharge, and then text and chemical equations to explain the aquifer. Each aquifer problem generally has multiple non-unique solutions to explain the evolution of the water, and the challenge is for the student to explain their solution, and defend it chemically. This is not primarily a writing assignment, this is primarily a science assignment, and the goal is to make a clear and concise defense of a hypothesis.

Question 3

Please explain what independent work students will do in this course. If students are engaged in team-based projects, explain how every students will exercise responsibility for and independence with some portion of the project.

Particularly for courses in which students work in groups on their independent inquiry projects, your response to this question should explain what work students do independently within those groups. For example, a faculty member from the Radio-Television-Film Department describes how student responsibilities are divided in a course where students work in teams to produce a short film:

Each film is produced by a small production team, and every student is required to fill a key position on a team. The team is composed of positions that are the common creative leadership positions in film-making: director, producer, associate director, and editor. Producer: responsible for project management – planning, assigning duties and schedules, organizing and controlling the workflow of the project; solving the various problems that occur in all productions; creative head. Director: responsible for analyzing the script to determine actor and camera blocking for interpretation of the script to the audience. Also directs actors. Associate Director: responsible for turning script interpretation concepts into concrete directions for all crew positions using appropriate terms and means for each; crew leader. Editor: responsible for the final step in the storytelling process – assembling the footage in the way which is most engages the audience.

Question 4

How does the work that students produce in this course build upon skills or knowledge they have developed in previous coursework?

The Independent Inquiry flag is designed to be a capstone-style experience, where students integrate skills and knowledge they have developed through previous coursework. The following response comes from a faculty member in the School of Biological Sciences:

Students in this course have credit for or enrollment in BIO 365S, Vertebrate Systems Physiology, and they are applying the content knowledge of human physiology from that course to their experiments. Some students have previous experience in searching and reading the scientific literature but we begin the semester with a review of how to do this. Students are also given instruction in basic statistics, graphing using Excel, and scientific writing.

Question 5

Please specify what percentage of the students’ grade is based on the process of inquiry as described above. Note that for a 3-hour course, at least one-third of the course grade must be based on the students’ independent investigation and presentation of their own work. (Students’ independent work must constitute one-half of the grade for 2-hour courses and all of the grade for 1-hour courses.)

It is helpful for the faculty flag committee to see how grading breaks down for your course since the percentage of graded content is an explicit part of the criteria. The following example was submitted by a faculty member in the Department of Art and Art History:

100% of the final grade is derived from independent investigation manifested in their individual work. A written proposal must be submitted by the 2nd class session explaining the chosen theme. The series will be evaluated at midsemester, and may be developed for the next half semester or another project can be started. The series should consist of three or more prints with related images. Each print must show a separate development of the theme, and demonstrated significant experimentation with color, using at least three colors in each print.

Supporting Documents

Attach up to three optional supporting documents, such as syllabi.

You can use this space to include a syllabus, course description, sample assignments, or any other documents to supplement the information you provide on the proposal. These documents should not take the place of answering the questions above.