Involuntary curiosity

What is it that educators most want from their students? They want engagement, or more precisely, they want curiosity. They would like for their students to want to learn out of their own curiosity.

Flipped classroom teacher Ramsey Musallam says one of his main goals in flipping his science classroom is to stimulate his students’ curiosity or sense of inquiry. His use of video helps him plant doubts and questions in students’ minds and spark their involuntary curiosity.

Curiosity has been difficult for psychologists to explain. Is it an appetite, drive, passion, a predisposition in personality? Sometimes it serves practical purposes, but just as often it doesn’t. It can be unpredictable and transient. It may be easily satisfied or may motivate an individual to seek an elusive solution for decades.

The information-gap theory of curiosity holds that while the cause of curiosity may be unknowable, the state of curiosity can be explained by an individual’s need to reduce his or her sense of deprivation in not possessing some missing information. Hence, people are motivated to remedy a deficit.

Certainly, some people are more curious than others but everyone, in the right situation, can become curious. Ramsey believes teachers need to become masters at sparking involuntary curiosity. In the flipped classroom, when you introduce video in instruction it can either quell curiosity or stimulate it and decrease or increase motivation.

Students need a little knowledge to be curious, otherwise they don’t know what to be curious about. Too much knowledge and they become less curious. Teachers need to find that sweet spot. When he first started flipping his classroom, Ramsey says students were less motivated because they got too much information at the wrong time. Teachers must become skilled in withholding and releasing information to be successful in flipping the classroom.

Based on research by George Loewenstein, (The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation), Ramsey recommends educators use these 5 situational stimuli to boost students’ curiosity:

  • The posing of a question that presents the individual with missing information.
  • Exposure to a sequence of events with an anticipated, but unknown resolution.
  • The violation of expectations. Individuals can expend a tremendous effort even with no practical gain involved to resolve this incongruence.
  • Possession of information by somebody else. Individuals may be motivated to also possess this information.
  • Having once possessed knowledge but then lost it. Regaining this knowledge can be a powerful stimulus for curiosity.

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