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Learning through discovery: A case study in inquiry-based learning

What does it mean to “promote active, collaborative and engaged pedagogies”, as articulated in the ANU Learning and Teaching Strategy? Many teaching approaches can facilitate active learning experiences for students, each meeting this goal in diverse and creative ways.

To provide a practical example of what this can look like, Dr Thomas Nulley-Valdes kindly met with CLT to share his experience in facilitating an inquiry-based learning approach to language education. 

Thomas shares: “I’ve been using this technique probably about 5 years […] and I think it’s a really wonderful way to learn”. In the video interview above, he describes how he introduces new grammatical concepts by providing students with learning materials outside of and in class, and facilitates a process of discovery in the classroom where students work together to reason, hypothesise and figure out the answers.

He reflects: “I think that’s quite different to other methods which might rely a little bit more on the teacher to explain a problem and break it apart for them”, and “…not only is it more memorable, but I think that actually deeper learning takes place in that process”.

And Thomas did not shy away from commenting on the challenges of using inquiry-based learning, sharing his learnings and advice to other educators who might like to give it a go. 

“I always put [students] in small groups so that they feel a bit safer”, he says, reflecting on the role educators have in creating safe and positive learning environments. 

He also highlights “the frustration that students sometimes feel [because] they’re not always used to being in the driver’s seat of their learning,” but emphasises the value and importance of building these capacities and skills in students, and the successes he’s observed as a result. 

“I could see that [students] were really working very hard to actually figure it out. And that was rewarding to me because I could see that […] learning was taking place.”

We invite ANU educators to contact us at clt@anu.edu.au to share their approach to facilitating active learning with the ANU community.  

February 2024


Ange Stoddard – Senior Education Designer, Centre for Learning & Teaching (CLT)
Hannah Simpson – Education Designer, CLT
Rhys Fenwick – Educational Technologist, CLT
Rafael Florez (Filming) – Multimedia Producer, CLT
Tangyao Zhang (Editing) – Multimedia Producer, CLT