Rubric for Inquiry-Based Project Work

Guidelines for Inquiry-Based Project Work

The posting below is from Chapter 4, “Direct Instruction,” in the book, Teaching in Blended Learning Environments: Creating and Sustaining Communities of Inquiry, by Norman D. Vaughan, Martha Cleveland-Innes, and D. Randy Garrison, 2013, published by AU Press, Athabasca University. To see a PDF version of the full book click here.

Inquiry-based project work involves a group of students investigating a worthy question, issue, problem, or idea.  This is the type of authentic project work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge.  These projects involve serious engagement and investigation.  Two resources that we have found of particular value to guide inquiry-based project work are the Team-Based Learning Collaborative and the Galileo Educational Network.

Team-based learning (TBL) involves sequencing individual tasks, group work, and immediate feedback to create an educational environment in which students increasingly hold each other accountable for each other’s learning and academic success.  The Galileo Educational Network has developed an inquiry-based project rubric that consists of eight dimensions.  The key components and descriptors for this rubric are highlighted in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1 Inquiry-based project rubric 

Dimension of Inquiry
1.        Authenticity

  • The inquiry study emanates from a question, problem or exploration that has meaning to the students.
  •  The inquiry study originates with an issue, problem, question, exploration, or topic that provides opportunities to create or produce something that contributes to the world’s knowledge.
  • The tasks or task require(s) a variety of roles or perspectives.
  1. Academic rigor
  • The inquiry study leads students to build knowledge that leads to deep understanding.
  • Students are provided with multiple, flexible ways to approach the problem, issue, or question under study that use methods of inquiry central to the disciplines that underpin the problem, issue, or  question.
  • The inquiry study encourages students to develop habits of mind that encourage them to ask questions concerning the following:

o  evidence (How do we know what we know?)
o   viewpoint (Who is speaking?)
o   pattern and connection (What causes what?)
o   supposition (How might things have been different?)
o   why it matters (Who cares?)

  1. Assessment
  •   Teachers, peers, experts from outside the classroom, and the student are involved in the assessment of the work.
  •  The study provides opportunities for students to reflect on their learning using clear criteria that they helped to set.  The students use these reflections to set learning goals, establish next steps, and develop effective learning strategies.
  • On-going assessment is woven into the design of the inquiry study providing timely descriptive feedback and utilizing a range of methods, including peer and self-assessment.  Assessment guides student learning and teacher’s instructional planning.
  1. Beyond the school
  •  The study leads students to acquire and use competencies expected in high-performance work organizations (e.g., team work,  problem solving, communications, decision making, and project  management).
  • The study requires students to develop organization and self-management skills in order to complete the study.
  • The study requires students to address a semi-structured question, issue, or problem that is relevant to curriculum outcomes, but grounded in life and work beyond the school.
  1. Use of digital technologies
  • Technology is used in a purposeful manner that demonstrates an appreciation of new ways of thinking and doing.  The technology is essential in accomplishing the task.
  • The study requires students to determine which technologies are most appropriate to the task.
  • The study requires students to conduct research, share information, make decisions, solve problems, create meaning, and communicate with various audiences inside and outside the classroom.
  •   The study makes excellent use of digital resources.
  •   The study requires sophisticated use of multimedia/hypermedia software, video, conferencing,  simulation, databases,  programming, etc.
  1. Active exploration
  •  The study requires students to communicate what they are learning with a variety of audiences  through presentations,  exhibitions, websites, wikis, blogs, etc.
  •  The study requires students to engage in real, authentic investigations using a variety of media,  methods, and sources.
  • The study requires students to spend significant amounts of time doing fieldwork, design work, labs,  interviews, studio work, construction, etc.
  1. Connecting with experts
  • The study requires students to observe and interact with experts with relevant expertise and experience in a variety of  situations.
  •  The tasks are designed in collaboration with experts, either directly or indirectly.  The inquiry requires adults to collaborate with one another and with students on the design and assessment of the inquiry  work.
  1. Elaborated communication
  • Students have extended opportunities to support, challenge, and respond to each other’s ideas as they  negotiate a collective  understanding of relevant concepts.
  •   Students have opportunities to negotiate the flow of conversation within small and large group   discussions.
  • Students have opportunities to choose forms of expression to express their understanding.
  • The inquiry provides opportunities for students to communicate what they are learning with a variety of audiences.Adapted from Galileo Educational Network (2011)

For a look at the entire book see:


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