Curiosity & Inquiry

Boyle, S.L. & MacKinnon, S.L. (in press). Speed Bumps or Road Blocks? Students’ Perceptions of       Barriers to Learning & Developing Academic Resilience. Proceedings of the Association of      Atlantic Universities’ 2016 Teaching Showcase.

While we start out in life intrinsically curious, at some point throughout our journey from childhood to adulthood this curiosity begins to disappear (Berger, 2014; Lang, 2012).  This is largely the result of various barriers and challenges, which can inhibit our willingness to explore our world (e.g., Kashdan, 2009). While the existence of barriers to curiosity has been documented (e.g., academic pressures, fear of failure), we have little insight into the lived experience of students’ struggling to learn more independently. We, therefore, interviewed a group of third and fourth year undergraduates who had completed two “Curiosity Projects”, once in second year and once in third/fourth year. In each semester-long “Curiosity Project”, students chose their own topic, wrote ten weekly learning logs, engaged in weekly small group discussions and online feedback, created a final “fair” project, and reflected on their learning experience.  The students we interviewed had also served as small group and online learning facilitators for junior students in the project for at least one semester demonstrating that they were deeply committed to the goal of independent, curiosity-driven learning. Analysis of these interviews suggests that despite positive experiences in their first Curiosity Project, most of these highly motivated students experienced unexpected challenges with knowledge/skill transfer. They differed, however, in how they perceived these challenges, as speed bumps or roadblocks. The environmental, personal and social pressures that impacted these perceptions and the students’ ability to overcome the challenges they faced are the focus of this paper.

MacKinnon, S.L. (2017). “The Curiosity Project”: Re-igniting the Desire to Inquire Through        Intrinsically-Motivated Learning and Mentorship. Journal of Transformative Learning, 4(1), 4-21.

“The Curiosity Project” encourages students to engage in intrinsically-motivated, inquiry-based project learning, investigating topics that interest them and following them down long and often winding roads, where u-turns, hidden side roads, and venturing off the map are a cause for excitement not a distraction from the destination. These inquiry-based, semester-long, student-led projects incorporate proximal goals of weekly learning logs and peer group meetings and in-depth feedback from peers and senior student facilitators. There are no page/word limits or minimum/maximum number of resources, just students’ burgeoning sense of what constitutes “high-quality work”. Community-oriented projects round out this experience. In this paper, I outline the structure of “The Curiosity Project”, its theoretical underpinnings, and present both quantitative and qualitative data that suggest that not only are the project’s basic goals being met but that there are unexpected, but theoretically supported, transformational properties stemming from student engagement in this project.

Nairn, S. L., Ellard, J. H., Scialfa, C. T., & Miller, C. D. (2003). At the core of introductory psychology: A content analysis. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 44(2), 93-99.

Exposure to the central ideas of the discipline is a primary pedagogical goal of introductory psychology. In this study, key concepts were identified in six introductory psychology textbooks. Of these, 377 concepts were included in at least five of six texts, forming the core of introductory psychology. If a unanimity criterion is adopted, the set is reduced to 197 concepts. These concepts were compared to lists from Zechmeister and Zechmeister (2000), Landrum (1993), and Quereshi (1993). Fifty-eight concepts were common to all four studies and were unevenly distributed among the major subdisciplines within psychology. Discussion focuses on the disparity of consensus across topics, the potential theoretical and practical value in hierarchical concept analyses, and “top-down” construction of a core for introductory psychology.

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