Albert Einstein once said “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”. Unfortunately, the more anonymous, structured and mark-driven our world and indeed our formal education system becomes the less chance curiosity has of inspiring original thought and new ideas at the undergraduate level. More and more often professors hear the refrains “just teach me what’s going to be on the test”, “where do I find the answers for this assignment?”, “how do I get a good mark?”, “how many sources do I have to include?”, and “how long does it have to be?” Many students (including some of our brightest) have become obsessed with “doing it right” as opposed to focusing on how to learn, investigate, evaluate, understand, and question, life skills that would serve them well throughout their future. Indeed, work by Kyung-Hee Kim (as cited in Bronson & Merryman, 2010) suggests that children’s questioning has been in steady decline since 1990 despite a steady increase in their use of reading and writing skills. As young people stop questioning, they become less engaged in learning. Student engagement therefore may be less about exciting professorial lecture performances, regular attendance in class, and getting a high number of the right answers on objective tests and more about the number and quality of questions that emerge from students’ exploration of the topic at hand coupled with their interest in and ability to examine possible answers to those questions independently both in and out of the classroom.
If you couple these concerns with an acknowledgement that the success of our current society is predicated on well-thought out innovation, creativity, and problem solving in everyone from ditch diggers to research scientists (Berger, 2014), we have to create an environment where students can learn to question, explore possible answers, and try things without constantly being afraid of being wrong. To do that, students need to feel invested in their own learning, believe they have the support to learn the appropriate skills, and come to understand that persistence and resilience in learning are more important life skills to develop than getting 100% by memorizing definitions verbatim.
This is the experience we are focusing on for students in UPEI 1020 Inquiry Studies.
UPEI 1020 is designed to teach students the skills they need to be successful inquirers, such as
- developing a “inquiry-based” mindset: natural and intentional curiosity
- developing effective questioning skills
- dealing with “wicked questions”
- being your own “devil’s advocate”
- dealing with uncertainty
- the importance of failure in learning and inquiry
- integrating and finding divergence between ideas
- the art of giving and receiving feedback
- seeing the bigger picture and considering the implications of what is learned
Students have regular opportunities to practice these skills in the larger class sessions using assigned topics and in smaller group sessions by exploring individual topics of intrinsic interest to them. We focus less on social comparison (me vs you) and more on temporal development (me now vs me then) using reflective practices throughout the semester. In the end, we want students to develop a stronger sense of their own capabilities and ownership of their learning as well as an increased desire and ability to learn in a variety of situations.