Summerlee & Murray (2010). The Impact of Enquiry-Based Learning on Academic Performance and Student Engagement.

Summerlee, A., & Murray, J. (2010). The Impact of Enquiry-Based Learning on Academic Performance and Student Engagement. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 40(2), 78–94.

[“Abstract” …]

“… problem- or enquiry-based course (EBL) … EBL students shift the way they access information compared with peers: they preferentially use more sophisticated resources for research. At the same time, students report greater engagement in the community, and student engagement is known to contribute to increased academic performance.” (p 78)

“The purpose of the present paper is to provide quantitative evidence for the persistent effects of problem-based learning …” (p 79)

“There are also data to suggest that students in small classes show a greater level of community engagement (Ahlfeldt, Mehta, & Sellnow, 2005).” (p 79)

[“Definition of the Problem-Based Experience” …]

“Closed-loop reiterative problem-based learning uses a ‘problem’ or a ‘situation’ to incite students to question context, to find information that supports understanding the principles that lie behind the problem, and to reflect upon the wider implications. The problem, better termed scenario, is used to pique students’ interest and motivate them to enquire about the underlying issues.

“The authors, therefore, strongly recommend that the discourse adopt the language of enquiry-based learning (EBL), a term that better reflects the emphasis of the pedagogy.” (p 80)

“The reiterative nature of the process encourages students to practise effective communication and to learn how to criticize and how to behave in academic situations, in addition to learning and assimilating content.” (p 80)

“At the end of every class meeting, time is devoted to group processing. … each member of the group provides concise and precise feedback to every other member of the group, as well as engaging in self-assessment of their own performance.” (p 80)

[“Study Groups”]


[“Objective 1: To Follow Academic Performance of Students Who Completed an EBL Seminar Course”]

[“Objective 2: To Determine Whether Entering Grades Were Correlated to Subsequent Performance”]

[“Objective 3: To Investigate Whether the EBL Course Changed the Students’ Approaches to Resources/Research Materials”]

[“Objective 4: To Study Whether Participation in an EBL Course Influenced Engagement” …]

“There is a wealth of literature on engagement (Ahlfeldt et al., 2005; Kuh, 2003; Kuh & Hayek, 2004). The measure of engagement in the learning process in many circumstances is judged by asking students how many times they participate in class discussion, work in small groups, and challenge each other’s assertions and observations.” (p 82)


[“Objective 2: To Determine Whether Entering Grades Affect Subsequent Performance” …]

“The data reveal that the improvement in performance is greatest for those students with the lowest grades upon entry to university.” (p 84)

[“Objective 3: To Investigate Whether the EBL Seminar Changed the Students’ Approaches to Resources/Research Materials”]

“The EBL students shifted away from a relatively naïve mode of research that relied upon Wikipedia and talking to professors, teachers, and family as important resources.” ( p 85)


[“Impact on Performance” …]

“… learning communities. … Lenning and Ebbers (1999) recognized four generic learning communities: curricular communities (students co-enrolled in two or more courses linked by a common theme), classroom learning communities (group process learning in a classroom setting), residential learning communities (students in residence clusters taking two or more classes together), and student-type learning communities (targeted groups of similar academic achievement and/or underrepresented groups).” (p 88)

“There has been a considerable amount of research, especially in the United States, about the effect of academic selectivity on the undergraduate student body at so-called quality institutions … In other words, entering grades are used as a convenient proxy for quality, and an institution with a higher grade-average cut-off is deemed to be of higher quality, although there is little evidence to support this conclusion (Ehrenberg, 2003). … these studies imply that educational experience can influence student performance and is by no means necessarily related to the starting point (that is, grades on entry).” (p 89)

“Moreover, students come to appreciate that all their colleagues, of whatever academic, social, ethnic, or economic background, enhance their learning experience.

“In a meta-analysis of engagement by students, where varying levels of problem-based learning (PBL) methodology were used, Ahlfeldt and colleagues (2005) demonstrated that engagement increases in three circumstances: (1) as course level increases; (2) as class size decreases; and (3) as the component of PBL increases.” (p 90)

[“Impact on Engagement” …]

“The literature around engagement and academic performance is compelling (Ahlfeldt et al., 2005; Kuh, 2003; Kuh & Hayek, 2004), and in the present study, the students in the EBL seminars report a higher level of engagement.” (p 90)

[“Summary” …]

“… students show superior academic performance after completing a first-year experience that truly engages them in learning and in learning about how to learn. Such an experience builds their confidence, but more importantly, it changes their approach to research and to the use of resources.” (p 91)

Selected references

  • Ahlfeldt, S., Mehta, S., & Sellnow, T. (2005). Measurement and analysis of student engagement in university classes where varying levels of PBL methods of instruction are in use. Higher Education Research and Development, 24(1), 5-20.
  • Ehrenberg, R. (2003). Reaching the brass ring: The US News and World Report rankings and competition. Review of Higher Education, 26, 145-162.
  • Kuh, G. D. (2003). What we’re learning about student engagement from NSSE. Change 35, 24-32.
  • Kuh, G. D., & Hayek, J. C. (2004). Quality time: An in-depth look at the National Survey of Student Engagement. Currents, 30, 11-12.
  • Lenning, O., & Ebbers, L. (1999). The power of potential of learning communities: Improving education for the future. ASHE-ERIC higher education report 26 (Number 6). Washington DC: George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
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