Creative Inquiry: Small groups, big results.
It's about solving problems — and nurturing critical thinking skills.
At Clemson University, "general education" is less about the courses every student is expected to take and more about the skills and values they take with them when they graduate.
Clemson Tigers are curious.
"We want all of our graduates to be thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs," says Provost Dori Helms. "We want them to be able to approach a task or a problem and figure out how to solve it."
That's the idea behind Clemson's Creative Inquiry program, in which teams of students take on problems that spring from their own curiosity, from a professor's challenge or from the pressing needs of the world around them.
You may have read or heard about some Creative Inquiry projects that have caught the media's attention. When a team of students under the guidance of food science professor Paul Dawson debunked the so-called "five-second rule" about food dropped on the floor, the findings were published in a scholarly journal AND pounced upon by The New York Times, The Washington Post and others who know a good story when they see one.
A similar media flurry happened after Dawson challenged a group of students to find out whether "double dipping" — dipping the same chip twice in a communal bowl of dip — really is "like putting your whole mouth right in the dip," as one character scolded another in a "Seinfeld" episode. (The students' lab tests showed that Timmy was pretty much right and that double-dipping George should be banned from the bowl.)
Another Creative Inquiry project caught the attention of a different sort of audience. The South Carolina Hospital Association presented its Most Innovative Initiative award to a team that explored health-care facility emergency evacuation planning -- a topic that took on a heightened sense of urgency in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Creative Inquiry has been described as engaged learning and as undergraduate research; it is both of those but more. The range of topics is boundless. Projects tend to be long-term, spanning three or four semesters. Often the teams are multidisciplinary. Students are encouraged to take ownership of their projects and to take risks. They learn to work as a team. They develop communication skills.
Inside Higher Ed, in the headline for an article about Clemson's Creative Inquiry, called it "Small Group Learning for 14,000 Undergrads."
It many ways it is the essence of the university's efforts to re-invent the undergraduate education experience, to engage students in nontraditional ways and give them experiences that will help them become creative thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs and global citizens.
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