What is Engaged Enquiry?

Learning at university is different to learning at high school – mainly because university students need to learn to think in ways that will equip them for their life and work after university. Graduates, employers, and your university teachers agree that it's about developing a questioning mind and learning how to explore ideas and form your own views, using your discipline's knowledge and particular ways of thinking and researching. It's about learning to think independently and creatively about the sorts of consequential problems you will face as future professionals and members of a global society. As students, you are independent and your knowledge, criticism, and ideas should be valued and respected. Learning at university is not a one-way relationship, but an interactive one in which you, your fellow students, and your lecturers learn together.

This means universities like Sydney can use different sorts of teaching strategies and students can learn in different ways. This learning can involve university students tackling genuine questions and actively thinking about and seeking potential answers – discovering new insights and getting excited – making mistakes and getting frustrated. It is all about enquiry. It is often based in real-life, personally relevant learning experiences – not second hand ones. It's meaningful and it tackles real challenges in our world. This is what makes it engaging for students and lecturers. It is the sort of learning that fits with the search for knowledge by universities – it's the sort of learning that makes a difference.

A good example of engaged enquiry in our discipline is……


Engaged Enquiry winners

Students were invited to submit their experiences of 'Engaged Enquiry', with the fifteen examples which best exemplified an Engaged Enquiry learning experience to receive a $50 VISA prepaid debit card. The students and their disciplines are listed below.

  1. Tenaya Al-Attas - Department of Political Economy
  2. Banks Benitez - Department of Linguistics
  3. Morgyn Bostock - Department of Government and International Relations
  4. Clare Cahill - Sydney Law School
  5. Meghan Cue - Department of Media and Communications
  6. Carolyn Dempsey - Arts and Social Sciences
  7. Mark Dillon - Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning
  8. Owen Hughes - Faculty of Dentistry
  9. Ruth Hughes - Education & Social Work- School of Development and Learning
  10. Georgina MacNeil - Department of Art History and Film Studies
  11. Samantha Nguyen - Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies
  12. Eleanor Taylor - Department of Government and International Relations
  13. Jennifer Tomlinson - Unit for History and Philosophy of Science
  14. Virandi Wettewa - School of Social and Political Sciences-Human Rights  
  15. Stephanie Yip - School of Biological Sciences -Terrestrial Ecology 

Students' examples of Engaged Enquiry

In a subject on dispute resolution and negotiation techniques the lecturer nvited a second hand car salesman along to a lecture. Prior to arriving he circulated details of a car for sale. Students were able to negotiate with him during the lecture, applying techniques of negotiation we'd been taught in class. It was like learning but on a game show and in the end a student walked away with a car for a really good price!

The most engaged learning experiences I have had at uni have been those outside of the classroom. I know this isn't what you're asking for, but I urge you not to underestimate the worth and value of the extracurricular experiences offered through the USU. Being involved in projects like revues and society major shows, gaining society executive experience, learning how to organise people and manage logistical challenges - these are all experiences which there is no opportunity to offer during my formal studies as an arts student, but which my education is vastly the richer for having.

It is a little disingenuous to add the caveat "in different disciplines": this implies that skills and experiences are not transferable or applicable between fields. I contend that what makes university engaging for me is trans-disciplinary study, between English, History (both majors) and International Relations. Aside from some obvious conceptual inter-fertilisation between the three, they are unified in their reliance on research, analysis and exposition. With my passion for writing, research essays thus provide the best opportunity for tailoring the course to my own interests whilst pursuing that elusive goal of excellent articulation - in three different styles moreover. It is this element of personal application/investment and active learning that makes for an engaging-cum-satisfying experience, for a meaningful sense of achievement and for a well-rounded understanding of the three most important Arts fields of enquiry.

...really talking to our patients! We put so much effort into technical excellency and clinical knowledge that we can lose sight of the individual we are treating, their unique problems, and their often very illuminating opinions. If you ask questions and show a genuine interest in their answers, the responses you receive can be surprising. Truly listening to our patients can open up a side of our profession that cannot be prepared for in the classroom, and if we learn from these experiences we can use them to adapt our training and have a greater impact on oral health.

Engaged enquiry in the architectural discipline is a physical interaction with, and understanding of, the materiality and techniques of production of the built environment. This comes about most viscerally in the Wilkinson Building’s workshops; we observe and take part in the mechanisms and fabrication of building systems. Feeling the grain of the wood and understanding why it is strong, rigorously testing methods of forming concrete modules and seeing our designs come into being in the laser cutting and 3D printing process. Our questions are answered by failure and success, bringing theory into the realm of reality.

Engaged enquiry is presumably the point of university education. Problematically this often can obscured over and placed as secondary concern to the outcome i.e. good grades, a bachelor, honours, masters and so on. One reason I think for this is that we have been socialized on the basis of competition (ranking system); a set criteria of what we ‘should’ get out of the course (unit of study aims); and a sense of uniformity (all given the same textbooks, questions). Through no fault of our own students get lost in a sea of expectations and pressure and it’s very easy to lose sight of the privileged position we are in “ to engage in and explore ideas, to try and make sense of the world, to find out our place in the world, and to perhaps even change the world. It was a political economy pre-honours class (ECOP3911) which first let me grapple with and appreciate the enmeshing of critical/ and creative thinking that is rewarding not only on the basis of grades, rather, my incentive became my thirst for knowledge, to understand the unknowable, to unlock the gate which was guarded by ‘what I should learn’, rather, than what I am learning.

While studying Organisational Communication all the students in my class were set up like a "classical" business, where wee each had positions like President, VP, Manager, Factory Worker. We had to learn the 'hard way' about the communication problems that can occur in this business structure by simulating a 'real life' situation - making a 'firework toy'. It was an innovative way for us to learn about business structure, while it made it easier to grasp the concepts we had to study by each person explaining the problems they had communicating at their given station. This self actualisation approach made it fun too!

I'd always been interested in history but in my first HSTY class at Sydney Uni this deepened into a passion. Although we were talking about the upheaval of Europe in the 19th Century our professor also made it clear that we were also talking about modern events like the uprisings in Egypt and Syria. I'll never forget when our professor stopped and said, “It's a horrible thing to say when people are dying, but this is an exciting time to be studying history", as it was the moment when I realised how important history is to our current lives.

A good example of engaged enquiry in our discipline is an intensive class Terrestrial Ecology. We were left in the forest by ourselves to come up with an individual scientific project where we would write a journal article. We had limited time, limited resources and no hints where to start. This gave us the chance to use our imaginations and be creative in our thinking and methods. We were able to choose anything that interested us and I was able to choose something that I was always interested in but would never have the opportunity to study on my own.

Last semester, in the core unit for International and Global Studies, INGS3601, the main assessment was a semester-long group project that involved simulating a meeting or forum of international organisations/states held to explore solutions to major challenges in the world today. Each member of the group chose a character from an organisation and argued/proposed solutions from that perspective, and so conflicting ideas and ideologies had to be managed to come to a conclusion that everyone agreed upon and contributed to solving the problem in question. It was an intense assignment, but it was an amazing experience in terms of learning how to research in a different way to your usual university assignments and work in a large group for a prolonged period of time; both skills that are clearly relevant for future careers.

A great example for primary science was a workshop where we chose a 'discrepant' event, like putting a skewer through a balloon, set up the event for ourselves and had to discuss/predict in a group why the event occurred (what the science was) and then present the event to the class. We also had to prepare questions that would enable the rest of the class to come to an understanding of the science. It made you think about how to teach, the surprise engaging element as well as the knowledge focus. The collaborating on the questioning sequence was valuable and the roadtest of your questioning technique on the rest of a class was also both informative and pretty entertaining to be part of questioning and answering.

The Development Studies degree is full of students with good intentions. But the faculty recognizes that good intentions are not enough. Classes are engineered Socratically so that students are constantly challenged to question their assumptions and perspectives, pushing them to see how culture and upbringing influences their view of the world. Students are discouraged to arrive to quick conclusions. Instead they are urged to let the issues marinate in ways that allow for critical, but sensitive, analyses to take place. Development Studies is as much an education in oneself and one’s ways of thinking as it is about international development.

In my philosophy tutorial last semester the tutor had a food roster where two people would bring in some treats and would start the hour off with something they had found philosophically interesting in the course or in something outside of Uni. As a first year student, I've found it very daunting sharing what I think. This allowed everyone a chance to talk and immediately made us comfortable around each other. Food is the way to go.

A most memorable experience for me was when we had an all-day role-play simulation for Human Rights Violations. Our class was divided into groups and each group had to represent different actors ranging from governments, NGOs, and the media to radical groups. The goal was to come up with tactics to put your point across at this imagined conference while the lecturer came up with ‘wild-card’ situations beyond our control. Enacting hostage situations, unjust arrests and precedence of sports over peace-talks gave a good sense of the complexities that persist in ‘real-life’. With funding from the STEPS grant, this simulation is currently being expanded.

A good example of engaged enquiry in our discipline is the class I took in my first year, It was ARHT **** and my teacher struck me as unbalanced - it was clear he didn’t have a lesson plan, but instead discussed works in ways I hadn’t previously considered. Our classes often ranged off-topic, but we were shown the importance of having an open, inquiring mind, rather than approaching a problem with an answer already in mind. It had never occurred to me to major in art history before, and now I am completing my PhD in the department.

One of the most engaging things I have done in my degree was a group project where we had to simulate a meeting of an international forum, on a topic we chose ourselves. This was a great way of learning lots about a particular subject that we were interested in, as well as discovering how these bodies work- especially as it's an area lots of people I know would like to work in! It was a new and interesting way of engaging with the topics in our course, and as an hour of class was devoted to this project each week, we really got to delve in deeply and have a lot of fun preparing our presentations.

One of the best examples of engaged enquiry is the way in which you can openly criticise or raise doubts about a concept that seems so infallible or unquestionable. My best moments have been participating in discussions about the apparent contradictions and infallibility of the world's most popular 'book', the Bible. Each person coming from a different background can reach different conclusions about how they feel about a particular passage from a text and this promotes so much speculation and a greater understanding of the depth of Biblical texts.

How we are always challenged in HPS to ask 'why?' To question our assumptions and the authors' we are reading. It makes the historical reading experience an invigorating, engaging one. The texts' validity and relevance became clearer with each reading. It is one of my favourite things learned at Uni.

Bringing piles of rare and old books, covered in marginalia into a literature seminar. Swoons all around.

Studying at Sydney Uni is an experience of educational enquiry that vastly differs from the style of learning at high school. Essays in English and Linguistics have allowed me to delve deeply into current and contentious issues, exploring the varied existing scholarly perspectives and leading to a synthesis of my own argument. It is by no means a matter of simply presenting the lecturer’s thoughts in the form of an essay, instead university assessments require us to read widely, study prominent arguments that really exist, and then present an informed opinion on the topical issues we are examining.

I have come to university to gain knowledge so that I can contribute in a meaningful way in my formal paid work as well as community work. The example of engaged enquiry was a lecture that was part of Sociological Theory - led by guest lecturer Raewyn Connell on Southern Theory and the global dynamics of knowledge. It led me to question how courses are designed and the impediments for incorporating "locally" produced knowledge, as opposed to "imported" knowledge imposed by powerful countries.

One of the ways that Government got me engaged was by discussing what's been happening in the news. Asking questions about current events is more interesting because they haven't been talked about for ages. We looked at Katrina, and how it was responded to by government, and what could have been done better. It was challenging to decide what we would have done differently if we were in the government, or part of the charity and community groups involved.

We have different lecturers for each topic like counselling or social psychology or different areas in Ancient History or Archaeology. A lecturer can't know an entire subject, so when you have different lecturers it means you're getting each person's topic. Because the guest lecturer is passionate about their topic, it makes you excited, and you can't help but ask them questions. It makes such a difference having an expert there who has incredible knowledge and wants to help you learn. Plus having lots of mini-lectures helps you figure out what you enjoy and are interested in choosing later, and how all your subjects fit together.

The most engaging assessments are ones are when you can pick your own topic because you know they don't have something in mind. You can develop your own argument. There's so much freedom and you actually learn something. Our tutor would bring it up each week, and we'd have 1 on 1 discussion so she really gave good advice and feedback on content and structure. It helps your writing and thinking improve because its tailored to your, where you're at.

For us, new technology means a different approach. On prac at RPA we did stuff that we had touched on at uni, but on prac I actually got to be a part of procedure. You need to do it for yourself to learn and really get it, it takes a long time to figure it out. After that I researched new technologies because it meant something, having been on prac and understanding how things worked. Prac is about competencies not research-I didn't need to go off and look for new things but when you're excited to be a part of something real you want to know everything about it.