Students selecting books

September 14, 2004, by Teaching at Nottingham

Did curiosity do anything more than kill the cat? The place of curiosity in Higher Education

Boyan Bonev, Catherine Cowley, Michelle Hall, Henrik Nilsson, Frazer Pearce, Theo Stickley and Sarah Westwater-Wood: “The University of Nottingham’s, Learning and Teaching Strategy for 2002-2005 states that the University is committed to excellence in the advancement and communication of knowledge. One of the ways in which it aims to advance knowledge is by “equipping students with a curiosity-driven and deep understanding of their subject”. While the university purports to expound a curiosity-driven approach to learning, it is unclear how this is manifested in practice through its educational initiatives. This study examines the role of curiosity in learning through the lens of those whose job it is to provide the very education that is referred to, the teachers themselves. An online questionnaire was designed to elicit the views of University lecturers across the five schools represented by the authors.

“The questionnaire was in two parts, the first gave no indication of the authors’ specific interest in the role of curiosity in learning, the second part focused specifically on the subject. Views were elicited regarding which teaching methods best facilitate student learning and which personal qualities best facilitate students’ ability to learn. Respondents were then asked to prioritise personal traits amongst their students. The second part comprised three open questions to identify if curiosity has been important for respondents’ own learning, if fostering curiosity through teaching is viewed as important and how this fostering might be achieved. The findings reveal that, when curiosity is listed with other personal traits and potential teaching approaches, lecturers do not generally regard it as having pre-eminent significance. However, when asked specifically to consider the role of curiosity, the concept of a curiosity driven approach to teaching and learning seems to be valued. On the subject of curiosity there were no significant differences in responses between schools. Are you curious as to what differences did appear for the other traits? The online questionnaire method produced 178 unique returns, a 30%-50% response rate depending on School, with the added bonus that the results were already in electronic format, largely reducing transcription time and errors.

“It is argued that, whilst the notion of curiosity is represented within both educational literature and the University learning strategy and seemingly valued by the study respondents, more direct attention needs to be applied to how a curiosity driven approach to learning might be achieved. Following this study, an inter-faculty working group might be established to consider these issues.”

Paper presented at the University’s Fifth Learning & Teaching conference (September, 2004).

Dr Boyan Bonev
Lecturer in Biochemistry
School of Biomedical Sciences
Catherine CowleySchool of Community Health Sciences
Michelle Hall
School of Nursing, Midwifery & Physiotherapy
Prof Henrik Nilsson
Associate Professor
School of Computer Science & Information Technology
Frazer Pearce
Associate Professor & Reader in Astrophysics
School of Physics & Astronomy
Theo Stickley
School of Nursing, Midwifery & Physiotherapy
Sarah Westwater-Wood
School of Nursing, Midwifery & Physiotherapy
Posted in Curriculum designStudents' academic development