How might we encourage questioning in an education system focused on answers?
Education is not synonymous with learning. As we progress through the education system, the focus becomes content-driven, where rote-memorization is required to pass the test, to pass the class, to pass the year. Curiosity, however, is a critical component to learning and is intrinsically motivating. In a system where answers trump questions, how might we reintroduce curiosity into education?
UX Design | 2016
Leveraging search engines to promote questioning
In a society where information is instantly at our fingertips, re-introducing uncertainty can engage our curiosity for learning. Inquiztr is a 2 week design sprint from my Master's Thesis on education, Playing with Firebrands.
An education that teaches apathy
One of the driving inspirations in my thesis work is from Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question, where Berger, a journalist by trade, interviews leading experts on questioning. He finds that “[School has become] a venue for loading kids up with information and feeding them answers to questions they have not yet asked... squelch[ing] their natural curiosity.” The longterm consequences are that it leaves students disengaged and apathetic, primed to follow a standard or pre-determined path rather than explore their own interests.
But this phenomenon is not limited to schools; it permeates our entire culture. We live in an age of information, where Google and other search engines automatically autocomplete a search after a single character, anticipating the answer before it may even be fully formed.
Whether for personal or educational use, the first webpage we typically go to is a search engine, the most prominent being tech-giant Google. Google has it's own interests in education, with tools specifically designed for the classroom. inquiztr is an imaginary collaboration with Google, interfacing directly with the search engine to encourage questioning. inquiztr serves as Google Chrome extension (easily enabled or disabled based on the user's desires), designed to structure Google searches as questions, and highlight our own thoughts and assumptions before having access to the search results.
To do so, Google's traditional autocomplete is disabled, and a list of question words are provided to the users to jumpstart the questioning process. Once a question is formed, users enter their best guess at the answer, before seeing the search results as well as popular guesses for their question.
Questions and cognitive science
Fact: toddlers ask a lot of questions. The number of questions we ask beyond our toddling years decreases dramatically as we go through life and the education system. But it's not because we suddenly know all of the answers. According to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, questions stimulate curiosity, yet teachers and parents are often “so eager to get to the answer that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.” Being told an answer subdues our interest in the topic at hand. But the subtle cues to jump to answers before questions doesn't stop with parents and teachers.
Questions are for kids?
Our search engines are guilty of the same thing, eager to give us the results before we've finished formulated what it is we are searching for. Try typing in a question word, such as 'why' into Google, and auto-complete shows two questions: "why is the sky blue" and "why is caillou bald." It begs a few questions of its own: Are kids (or parents searching on behalf of toddlers) the only ones asking Google questions?
A Chrome extension question game
Reframing search queries as questions
Inquiztr is a Google chrome extension that disables Google's instant auto-search terms and requires users to frame their searches as a question. Once users have their question and their guess, they can see the search results, as well as what others have guessed.
True or false?
Inquiztr allows users to submit answers to their question, where the most popular answer appears in the inquiztr sidebar. If the popular answer seems inaccurate, users can dispute it by submitting their own answer.