Who? What? When? Where? And, most importantly, why not?

Now here’s a quite interesting site:

http://openstudy.com/

“Get live help from other students. Be a hero to your peers.” it claims.

Obviously in its infancy, the site’s proposition is simple – a student asks a question, and someone else helps answer it. Perhaps oddly, I suspect the greatest value is probably not to the student who asks the question, but the one who answers it: learning is, after all, a two-way process, and there’s nothing like trying to explain something to someone else to sharpen one’s understanding.

But what is sad to note is that the introductory video perpetuates the myth that wisdom (the adult wise spec-wearing owl) is gained simply through the speedy acquisition of knowledge. As a result, most students’ questions seem to be looking for short factual answers – simple facts, that could have fairly easily been discovered elsewhere. Don’t schools teach kids how to use search engines and find out things for themselves anymore? Oh – no, of course they never did, did they?!

Few questions seem to be open-ended, prompting any discussion that might lead to some ‘deep-thinking’, or even less so, ‘deep action’. Click on ‘View All Groups‘ and some of the more important subjects emerge, such as Art and Design and Communications and Media. And finally in Art and Design there are the start of some more interesting and engaging questions, such as ‘ Who is the best designer of our time?‘ and ‘Does every artist have the spirit of art?‘  It’s a shame sites like these often simply ignore the needs of creative students and subjects.

Meanwhile I’m reminded of a conversation I had way back in the late 1990s with someone who had foolishly offered to reply to children’s e-mails from around the country about their textiles projects. She said the main problem was that the students didn’t know how to ask the right sort of question to explain what their enquiry really was really about in the first place, and she had to send a series of questions  back to them first in order to be able to go on to subsequently make a worthwhile response .

More recently I was working with a group of Geography PGCE students, and I suggested that instead of giving them the questions about a site they were studying, they could perhaps work out for themselves what the questions were? They and their tutor looked at me in astonishment….

Back in the 1980s, my GCSE students were expected to start projects by generating their own list of ‘Starting Questions’. They found it difficult at first, but it didn’t take them long before they got the hang of it.

So ‘How to ask the right questions’ would be high on my priorities for a curriculum.  The question is…?

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