The Making of Inq
I’ve always loved learning, but I’ve noticed I learn best when I’m driven by curiosity. When I started my senior research in the fall of 2016 I chose to study curiosity itself. I soon narrowed my research topic down to “questioning” and formed some opinions.
I’ve come to believe question-asking is a skill set that should be developed and encouraged.
Studies show that people who ask more questions are more successful. Good question-askers break down barriers, and yes–they are even better liked. However, students ask fewer and fewer questions as they get older, and this decline starts as they begin grade school. This means that students are less engaged in school and less prepared for the challenges they face throughout their lives. My research left me wanting to encourage curiosity in students by giving them a tool to for asking more and better questions.
So, why do we stop asking questions in the first place?
Mainly, people don’t think asking questions is a skill that needs to be taught. Before we learn to talk, children ask questions by pointing. And once we can talk, the “Why?” questioning never seems like it’s going to end. Until it does. Around the age of five, we develop mental models like categorization so that we don’t have to ask about every single thing we see. But when the innate questioning ends, and we don’t foster more complex questioning–or worse, discourage it–children stop asking. And while one might argue that kids are smarter because they have more access to information today, it simply isn’t true. Often times the web gives us pre-determined “important” answers before we’ve had the time to think about the question. The internet also makes it far too easy to ignore our own ignorance. And disregarding ignorance blocks the opportunity for questioning. Think about walking into a bookstore: you may know the book you’re trying to find, or the topic you are interested in, but on your way there, you are confronted with all these other topics you’ve no idea about. The act of picking one of those topics up and flipping through it poses a question you never would have typed into google. Now, I’m not saying the internet doesn’t have potential to open our minds to new information, other people, and other worlds, but I am saying that often times this potential remains untapped–even by today’s tech-savy kids.
Even if we all did agree that students should be taught to question, we don’t know how to teach it.
Dennie Palmer Wolf, a professor of education at Brown University, studied the role of questioning in schools. She found that teachers tend to monopolize the right to question in classrooms. Not only that, but teachers also primarily used questions to check up on students, leaving them feeling exposed rather than inspired. The other problem is that teachers–especially the teachers in underfunded, overcrowded schools–face daunting challenges
in trying to manage large classrooms. The pressure to cover more material and maintain order in a classroom gets in the way of allowing kids to question.
Let's say we allowed time for kids to question. Would they?
Joshua Aronson of New York University has studied difficulties that low-income and minority students face, and has conducted research on college students and found what he calls “the stereotype threat” which is that students who perceive themselves the target of a well known stereotype (ie. girls aren’t good at math) are more inclined to play it safe rather than risk the possibility of confirming the stereotype. Aronson stated:
“Fear is the
So, while we’re all born with the capacity to ask questions, these obstacles slow questioning down in students, and they do so disproportionately–favoring students with less stereotypes and more money. Therefore, students are less engaged in school and less prepared for life.
While our schools value those with the right answers, there is far more value in what you can do with knowledge through inquiring. In short:
Questioning is better than answering.
I’ve already touched on the influence the internet has had on our questioning, but I must also point out that it adds value to our questions. The more answers Google has, the less valuable your answers are. What really matters is what you can do with those answers–what questions you can pose from them. Stuart Firestein, author of the book Ignorance: How it Drives Science, states: “One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, can generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking. Answers, on the other hand, often end the process.” So questions are really powerful for starting a process, but they don’t just open up thinking–they also can direct and focus it. We need questions–especially because of our growing access to information to filter it and keep up with rapid change.
I’ve expressed why questions matter and what’s standing in their way. The next step in my research was to find people doing something about this. I organized the organizations and education networks I found into the matrices below.
It was during this search that I discovered the Right Question Institute. Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana were part of the core group which founded The Right Question Institute for the primary purpose of teaching the technique to people working in fields and many communities across this country and beyond. The RQI provides access to a question formulation technique that is a step-by-step process designed to facilitate the asking of many questions. But it does more than that – it takes students through a rigorous process in which they think more deeply about their questions, refine them, and prioritize their use. The RQI provides the technique instructions for free, but it lacks a digital platform. I began to think that a classroom app could facilitate this activity in a way that allowed students to ask questions more freely and teachers to organize the class and record the results efficiently.
For more information about the technique, I read Make Just One Change, by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. It is a clear, practical explanation with compelling examples of how to teach all students to ask their own questions. Using the instructions and case studies included in their book, I decided I would design an app that would provide the RQI's question formulation activity that would help students develop their questioning skills in the classroom.
First, I brainstormed to come up with a name for my app. After creating endless combinations of words, I ended up choosing a shortened one: inq, from inquiry.
I chose sans-serif typefaces with large, circular counters so that all the text in the app would be easy to read, making the app friendly for users of all ages and reading levels.
I picked two sets of complementary colors that were bright and fun, but not too childish for older students.
I manipulated the question mark of my round sans-serif typefaces to create a logo for the app, and integrated my color scheme.
I continued integrating my color and type choices as I created a style for the inq app. The color study below shows my process as I worked towards a style for the submitted questions.
While designing the pages of the inq app in Sketch, I uploaded them to InVision to create desktop and tablet prototypes with student and teacher view demos.
I designed three views for the app: student, teacher, and classroom views. I decided the app would need to work function on desktop and tablet devices. This way the activity can be facilitated in a classroom with individual devices, or in computer lab.
The student view provides a basic form for students to submit and edit their own questions.
The classroom view reveals all the questions being asked anonymously by students, so that the students can see the progress the class is making as a whole, and teachers can pause the session at any time to discuss the group's questions.
The teacher view allows the user to watch individual student participation in real time, write topics for new sessions, search for example sessions shared by other teachers, and revisit student questions from previous sessions.
This project was featured in the Graphic Design Thesis Exhibition, “The Self; The Other,” and in Judson University’s 2017 Student Juried Exhibition.
Although students are all born with the capacity to ask questions, current teaching methods, overcrowded schools, and self-censoring because of stereotypes or upbringing slow questioning down in students–especially in women, minorities, and children from lower incomes. Therefore, these students are less engaged in school and less prepared to overcome the challenges they’ll face throughout their lives. In response, I’ve designed an app that allows the time and the anonymous interface for uncensored questioning to take place. With this classroom activity these students will learn to depend on questioning more than answering. They’ll have the skills to rise to the top, and they’ll be more engaged while doing so. I believe this prototype could become a reality if provided with more time and resources. Stay tuned!
Berger, Warren. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough
Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.
Grazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. New
York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. Print.
“Inquiry-Based Learning.” Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation, n.d. Web.
17 Nov. 2016. <https://www.edutopia.org/>.
Leslie, Ian. Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. New York:
Basic , A Member of the Perseus Group, 2014. Print.
Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global
Business. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014. Print.
Rothstein, Dan, and Luz Santana. Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their
Own Questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education, 2014. Print.
Thank you to all of the people who contributed to this process! Specifically, I'd like to thank:
Professor Lauren Meranda
Professor Joseph Ruminapp
Professor Brenda Buckley-Hughs