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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rediscovering Practice and Inquiry in Academic Education: Experiences in a European University Environment

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I describe the design and implementation of a series of university MSc courses in Switzerland and in Italy on the topic of “Cosmic Structure Formation” whose goal has been to provide to the stu-dents a formative experience using interwoven research practice and fundamental scientific con-tent. The course educational framework, which is based on the ISEE Inquiry Framework, empha-sizes science, as much in teaching as in research, as a set of practices, re-discovering and actualiz-ing in modern terms the original pivotal role which these practices had in education in ancient times. In particular, the courses focus on formative, intuitive, student-centered and dialogic learn-ing in opposition to the informative, mnemonic, teacher-centered and monologic teaching of frontal lecture-based instruction, which is still the dominant teaching framework in university edu-cation, at least in Europe. I describe how course activities are designed in such a way as to mirror authentic research, including all aspects which are usually not practiced in lecture-based courses and “standard” laboratories (e.g., generating and refining questions; making and testing assump-tions; developing one’s own research path; and sharing, explaining and justifying ideas and results with peers). Finally, I discuss the major outcomes of the courses and the main challenges which were faced in order to provide to the students a truly transformative experience which could allow them to improve both as learners and future scientific researchers, as well as members of a larger community.

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