National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Innovations in Undergraduate Research and Honors Education: Proceedings of the Second Schreyer National Conference 2001, ed. Josephine M. Carubia & Renata S. Engel. Copyright © 2004 The National Collegiate Honors Council.


Social inquiry courses provide students with the means necessary to confront significant social issues, typically through a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Faculty members who teach these types of courses, however, encounter four basic problems. First, students often resist taking the critical postures necessary to do social research, largely because such postures in some way threaten the stability that students try to impose upon the world. Second, the ambiguity surrounding social issues and approaches to social research frustrates students' desires to maintain the type of order they were accustomed to at the secondary level, leading to further resistance from students to the idea of "doing research." Third, students' differing abilities can work against group cohesion and individual effectiveness, turning an already difficult course into a mechanics nightmare. Finally, students' desires to tackle significant issues, when such desires are manifested, often face the impediment of institutional research boards, which increasingly are becoming hindrances rather than ethical gatekeepers. This "Issue Reaction" offers four suggestions: structuring students into carefully designed teams, using problem-based learning techniques to guide discussion, using public data to train students in the mechanics of research, and having students conduct research within the confines of the classroom.

In the past, institutions reserved social inquiry courses for students who had reached the junior or senior level of study. With the increase of general education requirements at many institutions across the country, a much broader audience populates today's courses. Many incoming students tend to be "socially reticent," that is, unwilling to extend themselves beyond a cohort group that acts, thinks, and even dresses as they do. Forcing these students to confront communal issues intrudes upon the stability with which they seek to surround themselves. These students find that many of the questions they are being trained to pose threaten, or at least necessitate a re-evaluation of, some of their own core beliefs and values. More and more these students retreat from the critical stances they should be taking as educated and contributing members of society.