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Independent Inquiry Flag Criteria and Interpretation


The following criterion was developed and approved by the Faculty Council.

To satisfy the Independent Inquiry Flag, at least one-third of the course grade* must be based on the students’ independent investigation and presentation of their own work. The presentation of their work can take place in many venues including presentations in a capstone course, a performance, independent research, or a thesis.

*For three- or four-credit courses. For two-credit hour courses, at least one-half of the course grade should be based on Flag content.


The following interpretation was developed by the faculty committee that oversees the Independent Inquiry Flag and was approved by the Undergraduate Studies Advisory Committee.

The Independent Inquiry flag asks colleges and departments to consider these questions: What do we want our students to be able to do independently by the time they graduate? How can we offer courses that give all of our students the opportunity to perform this independent work?

The answers to these questions will be different across various disciplines, and the Independent Inquiry flag is designed to accommodate these variations. Across all disciplines, courses carrying the flag should require students to undertake research or creative work, think independently, and present their work to others. When possible, courses carrying the Independent Inquiry flag should serve as a capstone or fall near to the capstone level in a major, so that students have the opportunity to demonstrate mastery and integration of concepts important to their majors.

The emphasis for courses carrying this flag is on how the student is engaged in the process of inquiry over the course of the semester rather than on the final project or product that results from the student’s independent work. Independent inquiry is viewed as a culmination of a semester’s work rather than one exercise. With this focus on the process of inquiry in mind, here are examples of courses that typically satisfy the Independent Inquiry flag:

  • Courses in which students are engaged in every part of the research process, from defining their research topics to designing, executing, and presenting their projects. These projects can take numerous forms, depending on the field of study. Some examples are research papers, creative projects, performances, videos, portfolios, design projects, and business and marketing plans.
  • Senior thesis courses.
  • Upper-level independent study courses, in which a student engages in independent work under the supervision of a faculty member.
  • Upper-level studio courses, in which project-based assignments require students to think independently, undertake creative work, and present their work to others.
  • Courses in which students collaborate or work in teams on a group project, where students are engaged in independent investigation as part of the overall group assignment. In order for the course to receive the flag, each student in the course should be expected to exercise responsibility for and independence with some portion of the overall project.
  • Upper-level research methods courses, in which students undertake some independent project in the process of learning about research methods. Proposals to flag courses that have this structure should specifically address how the course asks students to engage in independent work.

Not every course in which students work independently on assignments should carry the Independent Inquiry flag. The following types of courses would most likely not satisfy the independent inquiry flag criteria:

  • Lower-division courses, or courses taught at an introductory level.
  • Upper-level research methods courses, in which students are asked to apply research methods to highly prescribed assignments or problems.
  • Other types of research methods courses, including those offered at the lower-division level, may serve as valuable preparation for courses carrying the Independent Inquiry flag, but generally should not carry the flag themselves.
  • Independent study courses in which the student serves as an assistant on a faculty member’s research project, but does not exercise independence or responsibility for some portion of the overall project.
  • Courses with tightly prescribed paper or project assignments.

In order to qualify for the Independent Inquiry flag, it is not necessary that students in a course produce original research, in the sense that graduate students or faculty members understand original research. The ideas for students’ independent projects should come from and belong to the students, but there is no expectation that undergraduate students are able to produce original or publishable research. Likewise, the independence required by the Independent Inquiry flag does not mean that students should not receive guidance through the inquiry process and feedback on their work; on the contrary, most courses carrying the flag will involve teaching students about the inquiry process in a particular discipline.

Finally, it is important to distinguish between inquiry-based methods of instruction, which are widespread in courses across campus, and the Independent Inquiry flag, which includes more specific requirements. As a method for promoting active learning in the classroom, inquiry-based teaching methods will be a part of most courses carrying the flag; however, not every course that uses inquiry-based teaching methods will necessarily qualify for the flag.

The faculty committee that oversees the Independent Inquiry Flag has also developed a set of learning objectives, or goals for what students will learn to do in these courses. These learning objectives can be adapted to your course and help communicate course structure and goals to your students.