Inquiry is that process of asking questions and getting answers by which we progress intellectually from what is known to us broadly or unclearly to what is known by us more absolutely. In many respects, it strongly overlaps with critical thinking, which we can understand as the ability to entertain and evaluate multiple perspectives in light of some purpose.
Our view of how inquiry functions as a method of learning can be summarized by a few common, broad principles:
- Orientation - surveying an argument, problem, or topic in order to acquire a "big picture" perspective on it.
- Analysis - breaking the "big picture" into its proper parts; dividing a topic into subtopics of inquiry; dividing a problem into its sub-problems.
- Questioning - recognizing when additional infromation about those parts is needed; seeking out the internal relationship of those parts.
- Reflection - taking time to think about the answers to these questions.
- Organization - recognizing what aspects of an argument, problem, or topic are most and least important and so arranging the parts through one's thinking.
- Synthesis - putting the pieces back together in an informed and organized way; solving a problem; understanding the import of an argument; bringing parts, transformed by inquiry, into a new relation with each other.
- Re-presentation - stating a thesis and expounding on it in an organized way; explaining the structure and solution of a problem; re-articulating the import of an argument; coherent expression of synthetic understanding.
Our program is oriented by this broad view of information literacy and critical thinking, which can also be called critical inquiry.