Sparking Curiousity

I read the post “Sparking Curiosity-Librarian’s Role in Encouraging Exploration” by Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel on In the Library with a Lead Pipe last week and it’s been open in my browser ever since. There’s a lot truths open here. I especially resonated when they talked about Head and Eisenberg’s research:

“In their qualitative analysis Head and Eisenberg identify a metaphor that sheds some light on how students feel about topic selection: gambling. To students, committing to a research topic is like rolling the dice. When students choose an unfamiliar topic, they don’t know what they will find and they do not know if they can ultimately meet their instructor’s expectations. Even worse, they must invest weeks and weeks of work into a project that may or may not pay out in the form of a good grade (Head and Eisenberg 2010).

In this context, it is not surprising that students prefer topics they have used before, or that they know many other students have successfully used before. These topics represent safe choices. They know these topics will “work,” because they have worked in the past. Students may not know exactly what they are being asked to do in their first “college-level research paper,” but with these topics, they know they are giving themselves a reasonable chance at success.”

Or how about this one:

“When learners are anxious, worried, or concerned that they cannot complete a task, they are less likely to make room for curiosity. The uncertainty inherent in choosing an unfamiliar topic can be too much to bear. In the context of a traditional research assignment, a student’s choice to play it safe, and avoid the gamble of an unfamiliar topic, is eminently sensible. Years of experience with school have taught students that they will not be evaluated on their willingness to take risks, but on their ability to meet predetermined expectations. The risks inherent in taking a curiosity-driven approach to research may seem too great to overcome.”

They go on to say that given the level of trust necessary to overcome these risks, it’s impossible for librarians working in the context of a one-shot session to convince students to take a risk that might jeopardize their ability to meet their professor’s expectations. I feel this keenly in an instruction session. All the niceness and encouragement in the world occurring for only 50 minutes is not enough to launch true curiosity and exploration, particularly in a freshmen English class.

I wish the article had more concrete explanations of how they actively encourage exploration, particularly as it relates to exploring different sources early on. Their suggestions of using language of curiosity, however, were right on the mark as I consider how I will collaborate with faculty in the future. For instance, encouraging “learning about” a topic rather than “finding sources” or writing about a topic they are “passionate” about. What effect might even that simple shift in language have on the outcomes and interactions even within our usual one-shot structure? I’ll try it out and report back.


2 thoughts on “Sparking Curiousity

  1. I have all kinds of thoughts about this! First of all, I saw Anne-Marie present about curiosity at Library Instruction West a few years ago and she had lots of great activities that had students just practicing asking questions about different objects. I’ll see if I can dig up the slides.

    Also, Buffy Hamilton–former Library Media Specialist, now Writing teacher–has FANTASTIC ideas for encouraging exploration and curiosity, many of which I’ve freely adapted in a college setting. Her blog–The Unquiet Librarian–is a must read. She does however, do these activities over the course of a semester in concert with a collaborative writing instructor. I think stressing the process of exploration over the final product of the “paper” or “presentation” is so important.

    Thanks for sharing! I need to read this article!

    • Meggan says:

      I saw Anne-Marie and some of the other OSU librarians at ACRL last time and loved what they had to say. I also adore Buffy, although I admit that I struggle to adapt her work for my context. Maybe it’s time to go back through her archives and see what I can dig up!

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