Stephen McNeil talked about how he has used guided inquiry in large classes even though it is designed for small classes.

Key principles:

  • There is a planned endpoint for the learning: That is where the planning starts.
  • Students go through a cycle of exploration, concept invention, and concept adaptation.
  • Sharing and reporting findings with other students
  • At the end they construct a new concept
  • Peers from higher levels of the program can help to facilitate learning

Flinging ideas at students doesn’t work if the idea does not match what they already know of the world (red light bulbs bounce off the student). He explained in a neat gif how terrible lecturing is, with which I completely agree. However, this is a place for it.

At each stage identify the concept, discuss, and share back.

To facilitate the reporting out in large classes he uses clickers. Makes sense. I think I am already doing this. He uses multiple choice questions because in a room of 400 people it is hard to filter through open-ended responses.

Sometimes students are disengaged in larger classes and we can’t police it. We try to convince students that it is meaningful but it becomes too difficult to manage it.

Start with a learning outcome:

  • Example: Differentiate between the two dominant knowledge paradigms: positivism (informed by realism) and constructivist or natural inquiry (informed by relativism).

Now that you know where they are headed jump to the beginning and develop framing questions. Ask yourself why should they care? Start broad. Try to activate prior knowledge.

  • What have you noticed about the types of data collection methods in qualitative vs. quantitative research?
  • Take a look at the sample size in this qualitative study versus this quantitative study. What do you notice? Why do you think the size is different?
  • How do researchers make decisions about the methods they use?

I need more time to work through this with such a complex concept. Also my group was into discussing related issues and working through an example related to politics.

Have them analyze data to identify patterns. What is the trend or the pattern that exists that will help them get to the learning goal?

Once they identify a trend try to have them explain why it is there. In this way they are developing the concept themselves. Try to get them to write down the question themselves.


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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