Help uni­ver­sity stu­dents re­gain their in­nate cu­rios­ity

Times of Oman - - ROUND-UP -

MUSCAT: Ex­perts have the the­ory that true learn­ing be­gins with cu­rios­ity and that chil­dren learn so much so quickly be­cause we hu­mans are born cu­ri­ous.

Cu­rios­ity is about the urge to un­der­stand and make sense of some­thing (call it a prob­lem, a chal­lenge) that hap­pens out there in the nat­u­ral world. It be­gins by ob­serv­ing about a given phe­nom­e­non. That is fol­lowed by a ques­tion and a search for an an­swer, which of­ten leads to an­other ques­tion and an­other an­swer, and the cy­cle of learn­ing goes on un­til a sat­is­fac­tory an­swer is found. That fi­nal an­swer is what we call a the­ory.

Of course, a the­ory re­mains valid as long as it con­tin­ues to ex­plain un­cov­ered ob­ser­va­tions about the same phe­nom­e­non.

Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors need to con­stantly re­mind them­selves that cu­rios­ity is at the heart of learn­ing. As such, it is im­por­tant that they learn enough about the his­tory of their course ma­te­rial so that they can ex­plain to their stu­dents why such and such prob- lems (ques­tions) were in­tro­duced in the first place and what pur­poses did their so­lu­tions (an­swers) serve when they were first dis­cov­ered. By do­ing so, pro­fes­sors help their stu­dents re­gain their in­nate cu­rios­ity so that they may learn bet­ter. Un­for­tu­nately, we ob­serve many sit­u­a­tions, where pro­fes­sors em­pha­sise the an­swers more so than the ques­tions, and by do­ing so, they un­in­ten­tion­ally cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where learn­ing is bound to mem­o­rise facts rather than learn­ing how to think.

I in­vite uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors to pon­der the fol­low­ing ques­tions: How many ques­tions does your av­er­age stu­dent ask per class? On the av­er­age, how many ques­tions do you ask your stu­dents per class where the an­swers to your ques­tions are read­ily avail­able in your lec­ture notes? If your an­swer to the lat­ter ques­tion is much larger than your an­swer to the for­mer, then you may need to re­con­sider your teach­ing style.

This is true be­cause you have been em­pha­sis­ing the an­swers more so than the ques­tions, and that is not the way for your stu­dents to truly learn your ma­te­rial. In the ex­treme, when your stu­dents stop ask­ing ques­tions, they lit­er­ally stop learn­ing. The writer, Fouad Che­did, is cur­rently the deputy vice chan­cel­lor for aca­demic af­fairs at A’Shar­qiyah Uni­ver­sity. He has taught at sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties in the USA, Ja­pan, Le­banon and Oman.

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