Questions to Investigate
A Research Question Should Pique Students’
Namsoo Shin & Steven McGee
Copyright © 2003
What is piquing students’ curiosity?
Research questions work best when they are designed to be thought provoking
to students. Such questions often involve the counterintuitive, the
thought provoking, and the controversial as a means of engaging students
in the sustained inquiries. They should be sufficiently open to accommodate
diverse interests and learning styles and allow for unique responses
and creative approaches—even ones that the teachers had not considered”
(Wiggins & McTighe, 1998, p. 30). Curiosity is an important part
of what researchers call intrinsic motivation. This is defined as “positive
emotions toward” a subject (Deci & Ryan, 1985). For example,
students are intrinsically motivated when learning subjects of interest
outside of school. In contrast, they are extrinsically motivated when
the activity is done for other rewards, such as good grades, high salary,
or approval (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). Intrinsic
motivation is a stronger influence of learning than extrinsic motivation
(Guthrie, Wigfield, Metsala, & Cox, 1999). That’s why it is
important to pique curiosity.
Why is piquing students’ curiosity important?
- Piquing curiosity improves students’ learning.
Curiosity is likely to support enhanced learning and achievement because
it can help to activate students’ prior knowledge (Alexander,
Kulikowich, & Jetton, 1994; Brophy, 1999; Deci, 1992; Thomas &
Oldfather, 1997). Students will then be able to make better connections
with new material. As a result, students experience increased personal
growth and knowledge (Shernoff & Hoogstra, 2001; Deci & Ryan,
1985). See details in prior knowledge.
- Curiosity promotes sustained effort.
Curiosity not only affects what students learn, but also the intensity
and duration of the learning activities (Pintrich, Roeser, & DeGroot,
1994; Vollmeyer & Rheinberg, 2000). Research proved that the students
with curiosity try hard enough to learn and put consistent effort to
reach learning goals (Simon, 1967).
- Curiosity fosters a positive attitude toward learning.
A key aspect of fostering a positive attitude toward learning is catching
the interest of students and holding it (Dewey, 1913; Mitchell, 1993).
Curiosity promotes students’ involvement in school activities
that result in positive attitude toward learning. Researchers believe
that curiosity gives rise to attitudes that lead to lifelong learning,
the development of competence, and achievement (Shernoff & Hoogstra,
2001; Thomas & Oldfather 1997).
How does a designer promote students’ motivation?
- Gain students’ attention.
Attention, one condition of curiosity, is defined as “capturing
the interest of learners and stimulating the motivation to learn”
(Keller, 1987a, p.2).
- Using visual materials
Researchers suggest that designers have to use varying visual materials
(e.g., film, video, print) in instructions to gain students’
attention. The visual representations of important ideas stimulate
students’ curiosity and encourage student involvement in learning
- Using misconception
When students faced with evidence that what they believe to be true
is, in fact, false and a misconception, students often are interested
in resolving the discrepancy (Bergin, 1999). Research found that these
stimuli are likely to attract attention and hold students’ engagement
after the novelty effect wore off (Bergin, 1999).
- Enhance relevance.
Researchers state that relevance is determined to be the most important
motivational strategy that stimulates students’ curiosity in trying
to comprehend subjects (Means, Jonassen & Dwyer, 1997; Keller, 1987b,
p.7). Relevance can be defined as “meeting the personal needs/goals
of the learner to effect motivations” (Keller, 1987a, p.2). Motivation
may be optimized when the learning goals and activities have some relevance
to students’ personal lives (Brophy, 1999).
- Using authentic context
Instruction needs to focus on content that is at least potentially
relevant to students and applicable to their lives outside of school.
Designers should use practical everyday materials such as: newspapers,
magazines, reference books, maps, and globes. Relevant media, examples,
or case studies are needed to incorporate into the lessons for increasing
the relevance of the content to the students’ present experience
and future expectations (Turner, 1992).
- Encourage students’ confidence.
Confidence is defined as “the students’ positive expectancy
of success” (Keller & Kopp, 1987, p.294). Students’
confidence can influence their persistence and motivation. The strategies
for confidences have to be designed to help students believe that a
reasonable level of success is possible if they put forth the effort
(Shellnut, Knowlton, & Savage, 1999).
- Using familiar context
Research findings suggest that information should be introduced to
students using a familiar context (Fleming, 1993; Park & Hannifin,
1993; Keller, 1987a).
- Stating clear learning goals
Research recommends that stating learning goals clearly is one way
to increase learners’ confidence. In addition, instructions
have to allow access to learning objectives when students need. (Keller,
1987a; Shellnut, Knowlton, & Savage, 1999).
- Providing self-evaluation tools
Self-evaluation tools provide students opportunities to master some
of the content in low-risk conditions. Research has found that this
strategy increases students’ confidence and motivation because
self-evaluation tools permit students to perceive that they are gaining
knowledge, learning skills, and becoming competent (Hogan, & Pressley,
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