Getting Curious in the Research Classroom
By Hannah Rempel and Anne-Marie Deitering, Valley Library
Would you be surprised to find out that, when asked, students report that finding, using and evaluating sources are not what scares them about research projects? Researchers at Project Information Literacy (http://projectinfolit.org) have reported in several studies that the #1 barrier students face is topic selection and “getting started.” Their findings show that many students see topic selection as a gamble; they must choose a topic at the start and they will not know until they are done if it is appropriate for the assignment requirements. Researchers at The Citation Project (http://citationproject.net) report that undergraduate students engage more with specific sentences than with sources during research projects, looking for evidence more than synthesizing and learning from a variety of information sources. These studies suggest that students focus more on assignment requirements than on research as a learning process. This is borne out by an emerging body of qualitative studies published in the last two years. For example, Holliday and Rodgers (2013) found that faculty and librarians shape student expectations about research with a classroom discourse that focuses more on “finding” things than on “learning about” things.
Our personal observations of WR 121 students’ attempts at navigating an academic research process suggested that students at OSU fall into similar traps. In particular, when students talk about their research process, the role of curiosity and exploration is conspicuously absent. This mirrors the conclusions drawn in the studies discussed above: that students seek out topics they think will "work" (in some cases, because they have used them before) instead of approaching research as an opportunity to learn. We are currently beginning a study that seeks to explore the role of curiosity in a typical, assignment-focused undergraduate research process. Cognitive psychologists have identified several dimensions of curiosity; we are using scales developed by Jordan Litman and others to focus on three of these: epistemic curiosity, perceptual curiosity and interpersonal curiosity. (Take the curiosity self-assessment yourself here: http://tinyurl.com/nw665xs). In-depth, qualitative data gathered from a small number of students with strong preferences toward these different curiosity dimensions as they engage in a typical research process will help us create a rich, descriptive picture of the role of curiosity in a typical undergraduate research process. Hopefully, the results of this study can be used to improve the information literacy component in WR 121 at OSU, and may serve to inform how students explore research ideas in the disciplines as well.