“The eyes of my three-year-old daughter sparkle when she learns something new,” says Dr. Stacey MacKinnon, Associate Professor of Psychology at UPEI. “I think somewhere along the way, we train that sparkle out of kids, because a lot of my students wonder why I bother teaching them anything that won’t be on the final exam.”
Dr. MacKinnon wanted to redesign her Social Psychology 242 class in a way that restored that natural curiosity in students. The result is The Curiosity Project.
“I could give lectures on social psychology until the cows come home, but I don’t think that’s really going to engage students and make them feel like they own what they’ve learned,” explains Dr. MacKinnon. “With The Curiosity Project, I ask students to select one area of social psychology. Through the semester, though their own research, they become experts in these areas.”
Students write a series of ten learning logs about their project. They begin by writing about why they chose the topic and what they already know about it.
“They build their knowledge as the semester progresses,” says Dr. MacKinnon. “The learning logs don’t have a word count attached to it, but the students are so excited by what they’re learning, they often write many essays worth of text. They’re so excited about learning that it doesn’t seem like work.”
Sarah MacLeod was a paid TA in the pilot year of The Curiosity Project, but came back as a volunteer TA in this, the second offering of this innovative class.
“Many students are quite nervous, and frankly scared, when they first learn about The Curiosity Project,” says MacLeod. “They remain a bit apprehensive for the first few weeks, but slowly begin to find a groove. Some students begin with a narrow view or opinion about their topic. It’s extremely fascinating to watch these opinions change or at least broaden as the semester goes on.”
MacLeod came back as a volunteer TA because she believes learning can be enjoyable. She also enjoys the fact that students are giving each other useful and constructive feedback through online forums and weekly discussions.
"Many students have said that they have learned and retained more with The Curiosity Project than most other courses that they have taken at a university level," says MacLeod, "Even though the course load is quite large, many also enjoyed the process and were happy to do the work."