Current technological advancements allow us to design new teaching strategies in which students are the protagonists. Biotechnology requires scientific knowledge and management know-how so that intellectual impact and economic performance return a benefit for society.
Inquiry-based learning, or IBL, is a methodology essential to the development of cross-disciplinary competences, as well as for the acquisition of knowledge, qualities, and habits specific to a scientific discipline. It is being successfully implemented in many institutions as IBL is a teaching strategy widely defended by the teaching community covering a number of teaching approaches that come together in one central aspect: students conducting research by asking questions and solving problems.
There are several definitions of IBL:
-A cluster of strongly student-centered approaches to learning and teaching that are driven by inquiry or research (Levy et al. 2010)
-Teaching that begins by presenting students with a specific challenge, such as experimental data to interpret, a case study to analyze, or a complex real-world problem to solve (Prince and Felder 2007)
-Teaching in which a problem or task serves as a catalyst for student engagement and participation (Oliver 2008)
-A range of instructional practices that promote student learning through student-driven and instructor-guided investigations of student-“centered” questions (Justice et al, 2007)
All of these definitions share the idea that IBL is focused on research led by questions or problems such that it could be classified as problem, project, or case study-based learning aimed at building knowledge.
This diversity in inquiry-based learning may in turn contain different activities carried out in a single class session of a single subject, different sessions of the same subject, or in different sessions of different subjects. These can in turn be structured in their entirety by the professor: guided by specific guidelines; or open-ended, where students are the ones to ask their own questions/pose their own problems, as well as the ways to tackle them.
Therefore, this educational innovation aims to help students to learn about existing knowledge or to challenge students to generate new knowledge.
The Boyer Commission (created to make recommendations to improve university education in the United States), argued in 1998 that IBL should be the pedagogical strategy used in higher education studies of science and research (Price and Felder 2007).
Moreover, the European Commission is promoting the change from traditional teaching to inquiry-based teaching, as described in the Horizon 2020 program, where notably the creation of capacities and development of innovative ways of connecting science with society are a priority that will help to make science more appealing to young people, increase society’s appetite for innovation, and open new lines of research and innovative activities (European Commission, 2016)
There are similar initiatives in other countries. One of them was carried out by Wieman (2014) in the US. This initiative promoted the improvement of science education at large institutions. Discipline-based research, or DBRE, uses process-oriented guided inquiry learning, or POGIL, where instructors detect the competences that students need to develop and guide them in the research process through group learning activities that promote analytical and critical thinking (Singer and Smith, 2013).
The innovation that we have implemented at Universidad Europea is related to the above-mentioned “range of instructional practices that promote student learning through student-driven and instructor-guided investigations of student-“centered” questions,” “in different sessions of different subjects,” and “open-ended problems/questions where students ask their own questions.”
The implementation of this kind of teaching innovation gives personality to the degree in Biotechnology and the double degree in Biotechnology-Pharmacy to the benefit of the quality training that our students receive. Students take on innovation, knowledge application, the scientific method, and the creation of a business idea by developing their biotechnology idea in several degree subjects.