AROUSING AND SUSTAINING INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY:
A STUDY OF COURSE DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION
Thomas A. Cyr
B. A., California State University-Long Beach, 1970
M. A., California State Polytechnic University-San Luis Obispo, 1980
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
1996 by Thomas A. Cyr
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
Thomas A. Cyr
has been approved
Brent G. Wilson
- florid 76
Cyr, Thomas A. (Ph.Dv Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Arousing and Sustaining Intellectual Curiosity:
A Study of Course Design and Implementation
Thesis directed by Associate Professor R. Scott Grabinger
This study evaluates how an intellectual curiosity outcome was
integrated into the design of a new engineering course. Intellectual
curiosity is aroused in cognitively complex learning environments. It is
sustained over time by engaging students in learning tasks that provide
them with choices, optimal challenges, control, and opportunities for
collaboration. The concept of intellectual curiosity has important
pedagogical implications for learners and learning environments.
Students who are intellectually curious about a subject are more
motivated to learn, develop deeper understandings, and do better on
achievement tests. Teachers can affect the quality of their students'
learning by arousing their students' intellectual curiosity.
This study uses a single situational case study approach to evaluate
the effectiveness of course design and implementation in terms of
arousing and sustaining intellectual curiosity. Data were collected
through personal interviews, dassroom observations, institutional
documentation, and course documentation. Two propositions were used
to focus the study: 1) intellectual curiosity is aroused by introducing
uncertainty into learning tasks, and 2) intellectual curiosity is sustained
during the learning process by providing students with choices, optimal
challenge, control, and collaboration.
Condusions are drawn from the research data regarding the
integration of intellectual curiosity into course design and its implications
for teaching and learning. Recommendations for further research are
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's
thesis. I recommend its publication.
R. Scott Grabinger
This thesis would not have been possible without the generous
support and advise of many people. I would especially like to thank my
wife, Vicki, for her consistent support and excellent editorial skills. I
would also like to thank Scott Grabinger for his work as the chair of my
doctoral committee and his very patient guidance. I am grateful, too, for
all of the assistance and encouragement I received from my other
A special thank you goes to the people at the Air Force Academy
who participated in this study and unselfishly gave of their precious time
in a such a hospitable manner. The Air Force Academy truly does develop
officers who are scholarly and gracious.
Finally, I am grateful for the consistent support I received from my
family and friends, especially during difficult periods. They were, and
continue to be, an endless source of strength and love for me.
A Statement of the Problem...............................3
Purpose of the Study.....................................4
The Research Design......................................5
Structure of the Thesis..................................7
2. LITERATURE REVIEW.......................................8
Intellectual Curiosity: A Conceptual Model..............10
A Historical Perspective............................10
Types of Curiosity..................................14
Classes of Curiosity................................17
The Role of Interest................................18
Arousing and Sustaining Intellectual Curiosity..........21
The Research Situation..............................22
The Study's Design........................................24
Relevant Characteristics of Case Study.................24
Analysing the Data.....................................32
Displaying the Data....................................32
4. RESULTS AND ANALYSIS......................................33
The Meaning and Purpose of Intellectual Curiosity.........34
Assessing Intellectual Curiosity.....................70
5. DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS.......................78
Purpose of the Intellectual Curiosity Outcome.....79
Defining the Construct............................80
Integrating the Outcome in Course Design..........81
Assessing the Effects.............................88
Suggestions for Further Research.....................92
"The Academy's mission is to develop and inspire air and space
leaders with vision for tomorrow." (Faculty Handbook, 1993)
The United States Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs,
Colorado, is primarily a school of engineering. It was founded in 1954 by
the U. S. Government to provide professional training for career Air Force
officers. The purpose of the Academy's program is to produce well-
rounded, "technically adept" (Faculty Handbook, 1995) and professional
officers through a combination of academics, military training, and
The curriculum at the Academy is in a state of constant refinement.
The development of the curriculum is guided by three principles: 1) to
provide quality education (knowledge), 2) to promote responsibility and
trust (character), and 3) to serve as a community of soldier-scholars
preparing cadets to be career military officers (motivation). In 1994, the
Academy established seven educational outcomes. One of the outcomes is
the intellectual curiosity outcome (see Figure 1.1). The intent of this
outcome falls under the guiding principle to "[fjoster a positive attitude
toward learning and a commitment to excellence in every effort" (Faculty
USAF Academy Educational Intellectual Curiosity Outcome
Officers who are intellectually curious.
Beyond possessing knowledge and having abilities to put that
knowledge to active use, graduates of the Academy must be
inclined to do so. We want to develop an attitude of
intellectual curiosity in our graduates that predisposes them
to lifelong learning.
The purpose of the intellectual curiosity outcome is to focus the
Academy's academic efforts on developing professional officers who have
a positive attitude toward and commitment to learning (Faculty Guiding
Principle #3, Unit Self Assessment, 1995). The designers and
implemented of the new introductory engineering course, Engr llOz,
incorporated this educational outcome by including it as one of the goals
of the course.
A Statement of the Problem
"All men by nature desire to know" Aristotle
This study evaluates the process of integrating the educational
outcome of intellectual curiosity into a new introductory engineering
course (EngrllOz) at the USAF Academy. A course director, six instructors
from four separate engineering disciplines, and two instructional support
staff were brought together to design a thematically based course that
presents a nontraditional approach to instruction.
Until recently, the traditional educational philosophy of the Air
Force Academy has been that of providing first and second year
engineering students with knowledge in the form of facts, concepts, and
theories. The lecture method is the typical instructional method
employed in first and second year courses with cadets held accountable for
the content knowledge through a series of formal tests referred to as
Graded Reviews. Third and fourth year cadets participate in courses in
which they apply their knowledge to authentic Air Force problems in a
Engineering llOz is a freshman level introductory course that is
intended to reverse the traditional approach of instruction. The "z"
denotes an experimental course and the course is expected to remain
experimental for six semesters. EngrllOz has two sections with twenty-
two students in each section. Through the use of "just-in-time," hands-
on learning activities (Interview, 1/24/96), students are encouraged and
guided to learn content through the process of solving ill-defined and
authentic engineering problems. The course is thematically based on a
hypothetical Mars Mission and focuses on three of the academy's seven
educational outcomes: problem solver, collaborative worker, and
intellectually curious, lifelong learner.
The course director, instructors, and instructional support staff have
set four goals for students involved in the course: 1) foster in students an
awareness of and respect for the field of engineering by engaging students
in authentic complexities related to the discipline, 2) increase students'
ability to deal with ill-defined problems, 3) encourage the development of
collaborative team skills, and 4) promote a positive attitude toward
learning (intellectual curiosity).
Purpose of the Study
This study evaluates the process used to integrate the concept of
intellectual curiosity into a newly designed and implemented introductory
engineering course at the United States Air Force Academy. The primary
research question for this study is, how is the concept of intellectual
curiosity integrated into the EngrllOz course?
The Research Design
This study uses a single situational case study approach to evaluate
the effects of institutional and course goals along with course design and
implementation on the arousal and sustaining of intellectual curiosity
(see Figure 1.2). Two propositions focus the study: 1) intellectual curiosity
is aroused by introducing uncertainty into learning tasks, 2) intellectual
curiosity is sustained by providing students with choices, optimal
challenge, control, and collaboration during the learning process.
Data were collected through personal interviews, classroom
observations, institutional documentation, and course documentation
that includes student focus group interviews, student e-mail postings,
student electronic journals, faculty questionnaires, faculty interviews, and
communiques between faculty members.
The Study's Design
The participants of this study are the course directors, instructors,
and instructional support staff involved in the design and
implementation of the course. All of the directors and instructors except
one are military officers with advanced degrees in the field of engineering.
Other participants in the study include the course director and two
instructional designers from the educational support division of the
Data collection was directed at issues concerning the process of
designing and implementing a new engineering course with the intent of
arousing and sustaining intellectual curiosity. Although much
achievement data were available, the intent of this research is not to
reveal any particular relationship between achievement and intellectual
The products resulting from this research are: 1) a collection of
literature on the concept providing a basis for operationalizing a
definition of intellectual curiosity and citing its implications for education,
2) identified strategies found in the literature for arousing and sustaining
students' intellectual curiosity, 3) documentation of the process and
problematic issues related to the effective integration of a non-cognitive
construct like intellectual curiosity into course design, and 4) suggestions
for assessing the integration of the construct and recommendations for
further research related to the intellectual curiosity construct.
Structure of the Thesis
Chapter 1 of this study introduces the problem statement. Chapter
2 presents a review of the literature used to define the construct of
intellectual curiosity and identifies implications for education. Chapter 3
describes the research design used in the study. Chapter 4 presents the
research findings, and Chapter 5 summarizes the findings with
conclusions and recommendations for further research.
Although curiosity is a term often used in educational settings, its
complexity as a psychological phenomenon is not easily understood. In
this chapter, I develop a conceptual model of curiosity and establish ways
to arouse and sustain it in educational settings.
curiosity: n. 1. the desire to learn or know about
anything: inquisitiveness. 2. a curious, rare, or novel
thing. 3. a strange, curious, or interesting quality
(Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991)
It is human nature to be curious. Curiosity is an action resulting
from inquisitive minds. Inquisitive minds ask questions, and asking
questions leads to new knowledge. Therefore, curiosity has important
Curiosity is a psychological phenomenon linked to a variety of
concepts including instincts, drives, motives, and stimulus needs (Voss &
Keller, 1983). The research on curiosity shows various theoretical
perspectives on what curiosity is and how it is aroused and sustained (see
Since the Academy uses the term "intellectual curiosity" in the
wording of its educational outcome, the same terminology is used in this
study. However, for the purpose of clarity, and because the definition of
intellectual curiosity is not provided by the Academy, it is helpful to link
the Academy's terminology to terminology evolving from the research
literature on curiosity. This study proposes that intellectual curiosity is
synonymous with specific/epistemic curiosity, and the following analysis
of the literature on curiosity is used to support that proposition.
Theories of Curiosity
Theory Conceptualization of Curiosity
Instinct instinctive homeostatic mechanism.
Biological Drive primary drive to satisfy biological needs.
Behavioral Drive acquired secondary (learned) drive with exploratory behaviors as instrumental responses.
Cognitive motivational drive state that evokes volitional exploratory behaviors when optimally stimulated. Two types: diversive (psychophysical) and specific (cognitive).
Social Cognitive a motivational drive state arising from the interaction of the individual with the environment.
Intellectual Curiosity: A Conceptual Model
A Historical Perspective
There are many theoretical perspectives regarding curiosity from
various schools of psychology (see Table 2.1). Ideas on the subject of
curiosity date back to the late 1800's when curiosity was seen by the school
of psychology as a primary instinct (Spielberger & Starr, 1994, p. 221 citing
James, 1890). The behavioral school of psychology conceptualized
curiosity as a secondary drive with exploratory behavior as the
instrumental response (Dollard & Miller, 1950). Another view from the
school of physiological psychology postulates that curiosity is a primary
biological drive (Harlow, 1953; White, 1961; Cofer & Appley, 1964).
Cognitive psychology theories describe curiosity as a state of arousal
resulting from boredom (diversive curiosity) or from cognitive needs
(specific curiosity) (Berlyne, 1960; Malone & Lepper, 1989). Social-cognitive
theory suggests that curiosity is a result of the interaction of the individual
in a social context (Ames & Archer, 1988; Dweck, 1988).
Current conceptualizations see curiosity as an emotional state with
"profound effects upon behavior" (Spielberger, Peters, & Frain, 1980, p.2),
an intrinsic motivational drive (Berlyne, 1960; Ded & Ryan, 1985), and a
multidimensional motivational variable (Pearson, 1970; Langevin, 1971;
Spielberger & Starr, 1994) providing "...the most direct intrinsic
motivation for learning (Malone & Lepper, 1987, p. 235).
These theoretical perspectives point to the importance of curiosity
as an instructional issue with implications for both teaching and learning.
Curious students are interested and express a desire to know things. They
ask questions about subjects or objects and act to resolve their curiosity.
Classrooms that stress learning, as opposed to performance, have a more
positive effect on students' learning goals, attitudes, and intrinsic
motivations (Ames & Archer, 1988; Blumenfeld, Puro, & Mergendoller,
1992). As teachers' roles change from didactic dispensers of knowledge to
coaches guiding learning, designing instruction that arouses and sustains
students' curiosity becomes an increasingly important pedagogical issue.
Curiosity, as conceptualized in cognitive psychology, is a
component of motivation with important links to cognitive functioning.
Berlyne (1960) defines curiosity as a variable of motivation. He sees it as a
moderately aroused motivational state resulting from feelings of
uncertainty. He distinguishes between diversive curiosity and specific
curiosity. Diversive curiosity, induced by boredom, causes an individual
to actively seek out stimulation. Specific curiosity, induced by uncertainty
or collative variability (ambiguity, complexity, novelty, absurdity), on the
other hand, results in an individual seeking to reduce stimulation. Day
(1971) puts epistemic curiosity within the domain of specific curiosity and
classifies it as a state of subjective uncertainty or a personal predisposition
to seek knowledge. Ded and Ryan (1981) see curiosity as an intrinsic
motivation to learn promoted by factors such as choice, autonomy, and
positive competence feedback.
Other theories about curiosity relevant to this study from the
cognitive perspective indude those of Spielberger, Snow, and Nuttin.
Spielberger's (1994) Optimal Stimulation/Dual Process Theory of Curiosity
conceives of curiosity as both an emotional and motivational system that
stimulates exploratory behavior. His theory suggests that curiosity and
anxiety have an "interactive motivational effect" (p. 222) on exploratory
behavior. The intensity of collative stimuli determines whether curiosity
or anxiety is aroused (Peters, 1978). Another aspect of curiosity is the idea
of willful action. Snow (1989) and Snow and Jackson (1994) see transitory
interests as a conative concept of psychological domains. Conative
constructs are those that reflect purposive behavior or the "volitional
aspects of human behavior" (Snow & Jackson, 1994, p. 71). If transitory
interests indude curiosity, then curiosity can be considered part of the
conative domain. If curiosity is part of the conative domain, then the
resulting exploratory behavior can be seen as volitional. Nuttin (1984)
argues that curiosity provides the motives needed for action.
Four major ideas are present in each of these conceptualizations
that help in understanding the implications of curiosity in educational
settings. First, curiosity is part of. the psychological domain of motivation.
Specifically, curiosity is part of the domain of intrinsic motivations.
Curious people are intrinsically motivated to learn and will act without
the need or presence of external rewards (Nenninger, 1992; Spielberger &
Starr, 1994). Second, curiosity can be observed as behavior, especially as
volitional exploratory behavior. That is, curious students willingly choose
to act. Epistemically curious students willingly explore their environment
for information to increase their knowledge. Third, for curiosity to be
useful as a factor of learning, it must be optimally aroused. That is,
stimuli with too great an intensity may arouse anxiety instead of curiosity.
Students experiencing anxiety about a learning task are more likely to
avoid it than approach it. Teachers must take heed to provide learning
contexts that do not overwhelm their students' curiosity. Fourth, curiosity
arousing environments can be created by introducing uncertainty into a
learning context. For example, uncertainty is introduced into the learning
contexts when learning tasks are ambiguous, optimally complex, and
Not all types of curiosity, however, are the same. In the following
section, a discussion of the types of curiosity is provided to show the link
between theoretical perspectives and the Academy's view of the construct.
Types of Curiosity
Berlyne (1960) distinguishes between two types of curiosity:
diversive curiosity and specific curiosity. Diversive curiosity originates
The Multifaceted Nature of Curiosity
from a need to increase arousal (see Figure 2.1). The individual searches
the environment for novel, incongruous, surprising, or complex sensory
stimuli to relieve feelings of boredom or monotony (Leherissey, 1971;
Spielberger & Starr, 1994). Diversive curiosity is most often short lived
and brought about by non-specific situations (Spielberger, Peters & Frain,
1980). For example, when students are bored, they may look for
something to relieve their boredom by acting out or exhibiting short lived
behaviors such as passing notes. Diversive curiosity, however, is not the
subject of this study. This study is about arousing and sustaining
intellectual curiosity. The next section clarifies the term intellectual
curiosity beginning with a description of specific curiosity.
Specific curiosity, according to Berlyne (1960), is a behavioral state of
uncertainty motivated by a lack of information. The individual seeks
specific information to reduce feelings of uncertainty by exploring the
environment. In contrast to diversive curiosity, the purpose for
exploration is not to increase stimulation but to reduce it. Curiosity is
aroused and specific exploratory behavior is stimulated when there is a
void of information or lack of understanding. A greater understanding of
intellectual curiosity, however, requires more detail about specific
Berlyne (1960) divides specific curiosity into two types: perceptual
and epistemic. Both of these forms of specific curiosity are motivated by a
need for information. In the case of perceptual curiosity, the need is
satisfied by "exposure to appropriate stimuli" (Berlyne, 1960, p.274).
Epistemic curiosity, on the other hand, is stimulated by cognitive conflict,
encourages knowledge-seeking exploratory behavior, and is satisfied with
the addition of increased knowledge.
A short review of Piaget's theory of cognitive disequilibrium, as
explained by Wadsworth (1989), is helpful in understanding
specific/epistemic curiosity. According to Piaget, individuals have
theories and expectations about how the world works. In some cases,
however, experience does not confirm their theories. The discrepancy
between expectations and experience places an individual in a state of
disequilibrium. To reduce the feelings of disequilibrium, the individual
actively searches for information to relieve the discomfort of not
knowing. Thus, cognitive disequilibrium is an uncomfortable
psychological state arising from a specific need to know, or specific/
Another link between intellectual and epistemic curiosity can be
made. Leherissey (1971) states that "epistemic curiosity is related to
thinking and problem-solving behaviors" (p. 2). If thinking and problem
solving are considered intellectual behaviors and epistemic curiosity is
about the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, then the term "intellectual
curiosity" is a logical substitution for epistemic curiosity. For these
reasons, the remainder of this report will refer to epistemic curiosity as
Passes of Curiosity
The various types of curiosity comprise only part of the structural
model of curiosity. A second dimension of the structural model is the
class dimension. Curiosity is classified as a personality trait or transitory
state (Day, 1971). While trait curiosity represents relatively stable
characteristics within a person, state curiosity is more reflective of how
interesting a situation is to a person. Trait curiosity refers to an
individual's unique predilection to be curious (Day, 1971; Spielberger &
Butler, 1971; Amone & Grabowski, 1994). It is important for teachers to
understand the implications of curiosity as a personality trait, because not
all students will react the same in a given learning situation. However,
curiosity as a situational state has other implications.
Situational curiosity implies that curiosity can be affected by
situational contexts found in the environment. Teachers who want their
students to be inspired, self-directed learners will use instructional
strategies that arouse, rather than decrease, their students' curiosity and
interest in subjects. Classroom lessons may be organized around materials
and activities that have the potential to arouse students' intellectual
curiosity and increase their willingness to continue researching a topic.
The Role of Interest
Krapp, Hidi, and Renninger (1992) suggest that interest and curiosity
are theoretically linked in three ways. First, situational interest and
specific curiosity are both motivational states that stimulate individuals to
interact with their environment for the purpose of gaining knowledge.
Second, interest and curiosity have similar theoretical structures. Like
Berlyne's classifications of curiosity as trait curiosity and state curiosity,
Krapp, Hidi and Renniger's conceptualize interest as individual and
situational. Like curiosity, interest results from the transaction between
an individual's traits with the surrounding environment or situational
state. Finally, situational interest and specific curiosity are both "strongly
influenced by environmental factors" (Krapp, Hidi & Renniger, 1992, p. 9),
like novelty and surprise, that are common to both concepts.
Although interest and curiosity are theoretically linked in the above
three ways, there is one notable difference. A state of individual interest
"shows itself" (Krapp, Hidi, & Renninger, 1992, p.7) as extended attention.
Individual interest dispositions develop over time, are relatively stable,
and are associated with increased knowledge. On the other hand,
curiosity is associated with "short term states of uncertainty" (Hidi and
Anderson, 1992, p. 221). Specific curiosity is aroused by cognitive
uncertainty. However, once the uncertainty is reduced, curiosity is
reduced as well. The question then becomes, once aroused, how is
intellectual curiosity sustained over time?
Hidi and Anderson (1992) suggest that interest is more stable than
curiosity over time. It is possible that individual long-term interests may
begin with short term specific curiosity which, with the addition of choice,
challenge, control, and collaboration, may evolve into individual
interests. Attending to interest factors in an instructional design is
important to sustaining curiosity and interest.
What are the factors of learning situations that sustain learners'
interest in a subject? Paris and Turner (1994, p. 214) have a "persons in
context" view of motivation that suggests some learning contexts are
more motivating than others. They claim that learning activities that
provide students with choices, optimal challenges, personal control over
the learning situation, and opportunities to collaborate with other
students are more motivating than those that don't.
According to the literature, choice, challenge, control, and
collaboration are four factors that stimulate interest. Schiefele (1991)
claims that providing students with choices in learning activities increases
more interest in content and results in greater use of information-seeking
strategies during learning. Clifford (1991) states that moderately
challenging learning tasks are motivating and stimulate interest.
According to Csikzentmihalyi (1975), people engaged in activities are
experiencing challenge levels that are in balance with their skills. Control,
or the promotion of student autonomy, has also been linked to intrinsic
motivation (Ryan & Stiller, 1991; Paris & Turner, 1994). Students with a
sense of control over their learning show greater interest in their school
work and learn more (Como, 1993). Finally, collaboration motivates
learners by introducing elements of surprise that "pique students'
curiosity" (Paris & Turner, 1994, p. 226) and encourage exploratory
behavior. Collaboration also provides contexts in which a student's peers
may function as curiosity arousing stimuli. That is, other students become
the source of a student's attention.
All of these examples serve to illustrate the close relationship
between interest and curiosity. Curiosity is aroused in the presence of
uncertainty, and uncertainty is provided in situations that are novel,
complex, ambiguous or incongruous. Once the uncertainty is removed,
however, curiosity may disappear if interest is not sustained. Curiosity is
sustained and transformed into interest by engaging students in learning
activities that provide personal choice, optimal challenge, student control,
and opportunities for student collaboration.
Arousing and Sustaining Intellectual Curiosity
The research on intellectual curiosity and interest points to two
instructional design issues involved in arousing curiosity and sustaining
interest. First, teachers designing and implementing instruction to arouse
intellectual curiosity must include elements of uncertainty. There are at
least four kinds of uncertainty, including ambiguity, novelty, incongruity,
and complexity, that can be incorporated in learning activities to arouse
intellectual curiosity (Berlyne, 1960; Day, 1971; Keller, 1983; Spielberger &
Starr, 1994). Second, to sustain interest, learning tasks need to provide
students with choices, challenge, control, and collaboration, and these
learning tasks must be optimal in their degree of complexity and
challenge. It is possible to overwhelm students with too much
uncertainty, resulting in avoidance rather than approach behavior
(Berlyne, 1960; Spielberger & Starr, 1994).
This study examines the design and implementation of a new
course, EngrllOz, created to arouse and sustain intellectual curiosity. A
course developed with the intent of arousing and sustaining intellectual
curiosity should provide evidence of the collative variables to arouse
curiosity. There should also be evidence of the variables that sustain
interest: choice, challenge, control, and collaboration. Evidence of these
variables should be found in course design documentation, transcriptions
of interviews with instructors, and observations of classroom practice.
The Research Situation
This study involves six instructors, two course directors and the
instructional support staff involved in a new, experimental, introductory
engineering course intended to arouse and sustain intellectual curiosity.
The EngrllOz course utilizes a new paradigm of instruction that places the
responsibility for learning more directly on the students. The problem of
how to integrate intellectual curiosity into the course provided the
instructional staff with a unique challenge. It also provided the researcher
with a unique opportunity to document the process of integrating the
intellectual curiosity outcome into the course from inception to
Relevant documentation at the institutional and instructional
levels was collected and analyzed for evidence of how the intellectual
curiosity outcome is integrated into EngrllOz, Introduction to
Engineering. Interviews of the instructional staff were conducted and
classroom observations were made.
This research uses the situational case study (Borg & Gall, 1989; Yin,
1994) method. It focuses on understanding how the educational outcome
of intellectual curiosity is integrated into an experimental college
engineering course. The purpose of the research is to describe the process
used by the participants in the study to design a course with the goal of
promoting intellectual curiosity. The structure of the study is organized
around two propositions: 1) intellectual curiosity is aroused by introducing
uncertainty into learning tasks, and 2) intellectual curiosity is sustained
during the learning process by providing students with choices, optimal
challenge, control, and collaboration.
The design and implementation of an academic course is best
understood when viewed from the perspectives of the participants
involved in its creation and implementation. Data for this study were
collected from four sources: interviews with the conceptualizes,
designers, and instructors of the course, course documentation,
observation field notes, and institutional documentation.
This chapter describes the study's design and research procedures.
The design section of the chapter includes the rational for using a case
study approach for the research, a description of the research participants,
and an explanation of the course being analyzed. The methodological
procedures are described first, including the research and data collection
process and the analysis procedures.
The Study's Design
Relevant Characteristics of Case Study
According to Yin (1994), case study is the most appropriate research
method when a "how" or "why" questions are being asked about
contemporary events over which a researcher has little or no control. Yin
also suggests that single-case study designs involve the observation of a
single phenomenon, in this case an experimental engineering course, and
do not attempt to reveal comparative data.
This study fits the criteria for a single situational case study for two
reasons. First, this study is about a unique educational innovation in
which the participants are involved in a single, experimental course with
a unique instructional design, and second it is appropriate because it asks
a "how" question about the case "from the viewpoint of all the major
participants" (Borg & Gall, 1989, p. 403). That is, it seeks a general
understanding of the case using multiple perspectives. In this study, the
experimental engineering course is the single case and draws on the
perspectives of three categories of participants grouped according to then-
There are several reasons to select the integration of an intellectual
curiosity outcome into course design for a research topic. First, the study is
about a rare phenomenon worth documenting and analyzing. The
opportunity to observe and analyze the process of designing and
implementing such a course is rare, because no course like it has ever been
implemented at the Air Force Academy before.
Second, case studies tend to be about decision-making. What
decisions were made by whom, why, and with what result? Since this
study is about the design and implementation of an innovative course,
the process and problems associated with decision-making are worthy of
observation and analysis for future reference.
Third, since the design and implementation of the course could not
be manipulated by the researcher, experimental or quasi-experimental
research methods were ruled out. Finally, since the study proceeds from a
theoretical perspective and is about a unique situational context, the use
of methods associated with ethnography were determined to be
inappropriate. The primary research question, how is intellectual
curiosity integrated into an introductory engineering course is about
decision making and the major focus of case studies is decision-making
The study of how intellectual curiosity was integrated into a new
experimental course involved interviewing eight course participants
including teachers, designers, course directors, and other support staff.
The Engineering HOz course employs six instructors and has a variety of
support staff participating in the first year of its implementation. All of
the instructors hold Ph.D. degrees in various engineering fields. Each
instructor has responsibility for one or more specific sections of the course:
Getting There, Sitting and Construction, and Moving and Operating.
Engineering llOz is an experimental first year engineering course
designed and developed by the Academy. The course has three
educational outcomes: 1) problem solver, 2) effective communicator, and
3) intellectually curious, life-long learner. The course will remain
experimental for six semesters. The purpose of the course is to introduce
cadets to the field of engineering, although its intent is not to recruit
engineering majors. The course offers an alternative instructional
environment to that of the traditional lecture type class by focusing on the
promotion of problem solving abilities, communication and collaboration
skills, and arousing and sustaining intellectual curiosity. Cadets in the
class work in teams to solve ill-defined problems which teaches them
about the complex and interdisciplinary nature of the field of engineering.
A research protocol was created to help focus the study (see Table
3.1). In order to triangulate the data, particular attention was placed on
identifying multiple sources of data. Four sources of information were
identified as relevant to the purpose and structure of the study. These
sources include: 1) interviews of individuals, 2) course documentation, 3)
institutional documentation, and 4) classroom observations.
Case Study Research Protocol
Topic Issue Questions
I. Field Procedures Scheduling of visits Who is to be interviewed? When will the interviews be conducted? What questions will be asked?
Persons to be interviewed Who are the conceptualizes? Who are the designes? Who are the instructors?
Sources of information: Interviews Course documentation Institutional documentation Observations What evidence do the other sources of information provide about why and how intellectual curiosity was integrated into the couse?
[I. Protocol and Questions Definition of relevant terms What is intellectual curiosity?
Research Participants conceptualizes designers instructors What is the purpose of the couse? What do the participants mean by intellectual curiosity? How do the participants see intellectual curiosity being integrated into the couse? What do the participants perceive to be the effects of the couse on intellectual curiosity? What problems are encountered and how were they resolved?
III. Analysis Plan Descriptive information What processes are observed during the design portion of couse development? How is intellectual curiosity accounted for in the couse design? What processes are observed during the implementation of the course?
Explanatory information How does practice match with theory?
I chose these data sources for several reasons. First, interviews
provide direct contact with all the research participants whose collective
views about the topic provide insight into the process and problems
associated with integrating intellectual curiosity, Second, institutional
documentation provides information regarding institutional policy and
processes which clarifies the institutional values and purposes for the
intellectual curiosity educational outcome, Third, course documentation
provides information about course purposes, strategic and tactical
planning, problems of implementation, assessment methods and
chronological aspects of course implementation. Course documentation
includes other information gathered by the course participants from focus
groups, e-mail journals, instructor interviews, and journal which is
readily available and maintained by the support staff.
Interviews were the primary source of data collection. Five major
interview questions were constructed to reveal the process of integrating
the intellectual curiosity outcome into the course design of EngrllOz (see
Table 3.2). The interviews were conducted with the course directors,
instructors, and support staff involved with developing and presenting
the course (see Table 3.3). One interview was conducted during the first
semester of course implementation. All other interviews were conducted
during the first month of the second semester.
1. Why is there an intellectual curiosity, life-long learner
educational outcome at the Air Force~Academy?
2. What does intellectual curiosity mean to the EngrllOz staff?
3. How is intellectual curiosity integrated into the EngrllOz course?
4. How are the effects of the course on students' intellectual
5. What do the EngrllOz course participants see as problems and
Documents about the institution and the course were made
available to me through the Engineering llOz support staff. Institutional
documents included the current issue of The Faculty Handbook (1995) and
the Unit Self Assessment (1995), an assessment document created by the
Academy that reports the state of the quality of its educational program.
Course documentation came from a binder of materials pertaining to the
Engineering llOz coursed collected by the support staff.
Unscheduled drop-in classroom observations conducted by one of
the support staff and by the researcher. Field notes were collected that
focused on the types of instructional strategies being employed. Field
notes were analyzed
Participants Identification Code
Course director CD
Instructor 1 11
Instructor 2 12
Instructor 3 13
Instructor 4 14
Instructor 5 15
Instructor 6 16
Support staff SSI
Support staff SS2
Analyzing the Data
All research data was analyzed using a computer-based tool called
The Data Collector (Turner & Hunter, 1991). The analysis procedure
followed four steps. First, the data was put into a digitized format. For
printed materialcourse and institutional documents, for examplebefore
being put into a digitized format, the documents were analyzed for data
pertinent to curiosity and interest issues. Second, a list of code words
associated with the subjects of curiosity and interest, i.e., ambiguity,
complexity, novelty, and uncertainty for curiosity, and challenge, control,
choice, and collaboration was created. Third, the digitized data was
imported into The Data Collector. Fourth, using the sorting options
available in The Data Collector, data was sorted and compiled.
Displaying the Data
The purpose of the study is to present information about the process
of designing and implementing instruction to focus on an educational
outcome directed at intellectual curiosity. To provide a narrative that
presents an organized and focused look at the case, the data are organized
around the idea of process and problems as viewed from the perspective of
the perspectives of the categories of mentioned earlier.
The process and problems of design and implementation are then
presented from the perspectives of the conceptualizers, designers, and
instructors. The data are also shown with respect to the theoretical
concepts concerning intellectual curiosity.
RESULTS AND ANALYSIS
The primary method of data analysis used in this study relies on
two research propositions regarding the integration of intellectual
curiosity into the design and implementation of the Engineering llOz
course. The analysis compares collected data to theoretical issues related to
the construct of intellectual curiosity. Evidence provided horn course
documentation, interviews, and classroom observations shows the process
of integrating intellectual curiosity into the EngrllOz course. Analysis of
the data begins with an attempt to find the meaning and purpose of the
intellectual curiosity outcome.
The Meaning and Purpose of Intellectual Curiosity
Academy instructors and instructional designers wishing to design
a new course or start an innovation have to frame the course or
innovation around the values and purposes of the larger institution. In
this case, the values and purposes of the larger institution are expressed in
terms of educational outcomes. Intellectual curiosity is one of the
outcomes. To better understand the rationale for the design and
development of the EngrllOz course in light of the intellectual curiosity
outcome, evidence was collected from institutional documentation and
individuals involved in the EngrllOz to give insight into the meaning,
value, and purpose of the intellectual curiosity outcome to the Academy
None of the institutional or course documentation collected directly
provides a formal USAFA definition for intellectual curiosity. There are,
however, clues in the various documents about what the institution
means by the construct. For example, the outcome also states that the
Academy wants to "develop an attitude of intellectual curiosity." Further,
the outcome suggests that the Academy thinks an intellectually
curious /life-long learner is one who not only has the ability to put
knowledge to active use but is also predisposed to do so. To the Academy,
then, intellectual curiosity is viewed as an attitude that creates a
predisposition for behavior. Other dues about the meaning of intellectual
curiosity were found in other documents.
In the Unit Self Assessment (p.17), intellectual curiosity is included
as part of critical thinking. "We define critical thinking in terms of three
of our educational outcomes: (1) framing and resolving ill-defined
problems; (2) effective communication; and (3) intellectual curiosity."
Another clue about what the construct means to the designers of the
EngrllOz course comes from their Revised Assessment Plan (May 21,
1995). On the first page of that document, the writers suggest that
intellectual curiosity is a cognitive outcome. Goal three of the assessment
plan is to provide evidence of progress in the key cognitive outcomes, one
of which is to exhibit intellectual curiosity.
From the perspective of the institution and based on the references
to intellectual curiosity found in the various institutional and course
documents, it appears that the meaning of intellectual curiosity is not clear
to the Academy. Intellectual curiosity is seen as an attitude, a cognitive
outcome, a part of critical thinking, and as a combination of all of these
concepts. None of the institutional data collected gave any evidence of the
purpose of the intellectual curiosity outcome. The EngrllOz course
participants, however, have their own individual ideas about the
meaning and purpose of intellectual curiosity as is shown in the next
At the beginning of each of the interviews, to gain a sense of the
interviewees' understanding of the outcome, participants were asked to
talk about the purpose of the intellectual curiosity educational outcome. I
believed that once the purpose of the outcome was established, an attempt
to find out how the outcome is defined could be made. A definition
would then lead to a clearer understanding of how the construct was
included in the design of the course by identifying how it was incorporated
in specific learning tasks or activities included in the Engineering llOz
course. What follows is a summary of evidence from interviews with
instructional participants in EngrllOz revealing what they mean by
The primary responses show that the participants in the EngrllOz
course consider the meaning of intellectual curiosity to include ideas
about a person's ability to learn independently, personal interests, lack of
cynicism, wanting to be more educationally well-rounded, and a student's
willingness to go beyond basic requirements. The following dialogues
provide examples of what participants believe intellectual curiosity is.
TC Q: What does the Academy mean by intellectual curiosity?
CD A: I couldn't tell you the public definition, or the published, but
my personal definition is that...is that we graduate cadets out of here
that know how to learn for themselves. That we teach them how to
learn in the four years that they're here.
TC Q: Are you an intellectually curious person? What are the things
about you that would be indicators of that?
SSI A: I think so. I like to read books on all kinds of subjects...that I'm
curious about. I don't know if that means I'm intellectually curious
or shallow, but I find myself interested in a lot of things.
TC Q: What does intellectual curiosity mean?
SSI A: Some people have equated intellectual curiosity almost at the
opposite end of the scale with cynicism. And to a certain extent I
think that's valid. Students have intellectual cynicism as well as
moral or social cynicism. So thats a benchmark.
Another attempt to define the construct came up while one
interviewee was responding to the first question. The response shows
some confusion about how to define intellectual curiosity.
CD A: And you can't force people to do that [to be intellectually
curious]. You can't say, I want you to go read the New York Times
every day. I want you to read this and do that and watch this TV
show. It's something you'd like to have just built in. And then the
real question is, well, you know, when do people develop that skill
and why for that desire? Is it early in life, or can it be developed
later in life? I don't know the answer to that question. I know,
personally, that I am probably more intellectually curious now than
Ive ever been in my life. In fact, I spend most of my time reading,
watching, listening and talking about things that really aren't
directly related at all to my discipline.
TC Q: Do you think that it's a nature/nurture question? Is it part of
your nature to do this or do you think the Air Force has fostered
that in you?
CD A: It's probably part of my nature, and maybe a little bit of the other
TC Q: Now, there is an educational outcome, intellectual
curiosity/lifelong learner outcome at the academy. And I'm
wondering, what kind of operational definition you all give that?
What, in your mind, does that mean...intellectual curiosity?
A: Well, it means an ability and a desire. I guess it is composed of
at least those two parts. The ability and desire to acquire new
knowledge and skills upon ones own. And you know, when I say
"knowledge" I don't just mean facts. I mean factual relationships
and meanings and threads so that's an ability to integrate
The following response to the question reveals the instructor's
sense of the individual nature of curiosity, the idea of intellectual curiosity
being a drive, and the effect of uncertainty on the curiosity drive.
TC Q: What does this intellectual curiosity construct mean to you?
13 A: We tend to be very intellectually curious about various things.
We tend to realize that there is perhaps not just one view of how to
approach our problems or how to deal with those problems.
TC Q: What is intellectual curiosity?
13 A: I dont know. But it seems like its something that would be
required,... I think anybody in the creative process, whether youre
an engineer or writer, you know, whatever your field is, if you want
to go beyond whats currently known, or to extend yourself in any
area, you have to have that, sort of, inner drive to go out and try
something... where you reach beyond yourself, and beyond the, you
know, whats known in the classroom, and that sort of thing.
TC Q: Right, exactly. Are you an intellectually curious person?
13 A: Definitely.
TC Q: Now, how would I know that? How would the world know that
you're an intellectually curious person?
13 A: Right now, with the research I'm doing, it's... there are no
answers. I mean, we're cutting new ground and I find thats
While responding to the first question about why there is an
intellectual curiosity outcome, this instructor gave some clues about his
definition of the construct.
14 A: That's a good question. And I don't know how much I've
thought about that. I guess we see it as an item that leads to a
person that is capable of functioning as an Air Force officer. Air
Force officers are expected to have a wide range of backgrounds and
abilities in a lot of different areas. And to achieve that, you have to
have the desire to go out and learn and to understand things
outside of your area, and better yourself in your own group. And
without that, then you become much more focused on one thing in
particular. I mean that's my perception.
TC Q: Do you consider yourself an intellectually curious person? And
how do you know if you're an intellectually curious person, if you
A: I feel like I am. And in a lot of ways Im like the cadets. I don't
feel like I have time to do as much as I would like. And I say I am
because many things intrigue me and I would love to learn more
about all different aspects of, I don't want to say life in general, but,
everything in your daily life.
The interviewees added to the complexity of the definition issue by
stating that the concept includes ideas about knowing how to learn,
willingness to search for information, being intrigued by things, of
cynicism, abilities and desires to know, nature and nurture, knowledge
acquisition, creativity, and researching.
In the same part of the interview, each interviewee was asked what
he or she thought the purpose of the intellectual curiosity outcomes was.
The course director for EngrllOz gave a particularly interesting answer to
the question about the purpose of an intellectual curiosity outcome at the
Academy. The response suggests that the role of military officers has
changed in recent times and now requires more adaptability and flexibility
and therefore a willingness to learn. At the end of the response to the
question, the interviewee suggests that effective leaders are those who are
intellectually curious and lifelong learners.
TC Q: My first question ... has to do with understanding why USAFA
has this intellectual curiosity/lifelong learner outcome.
CD A: Well, we were talking about that last night. A simple answer
would be, back during the cold war, and historically in the military,
you know, the enemy was known and your job was to keep on the
enemy and if they moved, to shoot them. And we knew who the
enemy was and the mission was very simple, straightforward, and
so on. That's all changed, now. And we have all these things going
on in the world that in the past would not have been considered
traditional military things to do, like Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and so
on. And all kinds of humanitarian things.
Anyway, so you say to yourself, what do you need in a young leader,
and for that matter, a senior leader? You need somebody whos
very adaptable and flexible, and who's willing to learn about new
things on their own, and has a penchant to want to do that. Because
the greater the storehouse of knowledge and experience, the more
probable it is that in a strange and new situation, they will be able to
make a rational decision thats the right one for that situation
And I used to say, and I still do, wed like to graduate people from
here who,... there are times when you need to operate in a checklist
environment I mean, when you're dealing, say, with a nuclear
weapon and you have to do a certain thing with it, you want to
make sure that you follow every single step in a checklist. On the
other hand, theres situations where you want people to be very
open to change, flexible and creative. And Id like to graduate
people from here who know how to do both and know when to do
which one. And so the intellectual curiosity part fits in, in the
sense of, I believe a human being is more effective as a leader and
operator and doer the more, knowledge they have in general. You
know, Im looking for people who are up on current events, who
are up on things affecting their responsibilities.
Another response that sheds light on the purpose of the intellectual
curiosity outcome comes from one of the instructors in the course.
Theresponse suggests the outcome grew out of the country's need for
independent thinking soldier/citizens.
TC Q: Why is there an intellectual curiosity outcome at the Academy?
12 A: ...the Kennedy administration was the one that was most
prominent on this issue. It was dearly pointed out that soldiers
could no longer be a purist. Where all they did was know how to
handle tactical soldiering type things. If these soldiers were going to
really serve the United States in the level that was required of them
by the president, then as advisors to that president they had to
become what we called a soldier titizen. And that meant that they
needed to be able to not just consider the battlefield tactics that are
involved but the implications of those tactics on other issues,
whether they be economic, whether they would be political or
whatever area they would effect besides just the battlefield.
This instructor goes on to suggest that the Air Force Academy was
formed in 1955 as a result of this need for soldier/citizens and that the idea
of the intellectual curiosity outcome grew out of a need for independent
12 A: At the same time part of that original outcome was that we
wanted these officers, these cadets, these future officers to be in a
state of mind where they were both independent thinkers, they
were,... they could work in teams to do what they needed to do.
And that they become committed to lifelong learning. And so even
in an extension of their undergraduate years we expect them to be
in the state of mind that says, 'I need to learn my entire life in order
to be able to do the job that Im being asked to do/ And that's the
general philosophy of the academy.
Another response connects the idea of professionalism to the
intellectual curiosity outcome. Part of being a professional, this person
suggests, is having to deal with uncertain situations.
13 A: I think basically because we're here to develop professional
officers. And although the people that graduate [from] here will go
into many, many different career fields, we prepare them for the
career field, but more importantly, we prepare them to be a
professional officer...what we want them to realize is, quite often
youre going to be put in a situation where you don't have all the
answers and you don't have the information. And we want you to
have the wherewithal to reach out and find out the information
that you need.
The fact that intellectual curiosity is an issue at the Academy is
evident in its inclusion as an educational outcome. The purpose of the
outcome appears to be the need to address modem problems with modem
educational solutions. That is, it is not sufficient for modem Air Force
officers to respond to modem problems in outmoded ways. The Air Force
expects their officers to be knowledgeable and flexible thinkers ready to
apply their knowledge in a collaborative manner to ambiguous and
Although not formally stated in institutional documentation, the
purpose of the outcome seems to be tacitly understood by the instructors of
the EngrllOz course. The Air Force Academy should be producing
professional officers who are capable of handling complex and ambiguous
situations and who are continually learning in order to be ready for those
situations. How they apply their theories about the meaning and purpose
of intellectual curiosity to arouse and sustain it is shown in the following
Some of the curiosity arousing uncertainty factors mentioned by
Berlyne (1960) are evident in the EngrllOz course. The most frequently
observed factors are ambiguity, complexity, and novelty. Examples of how
each are integrated into the course are described below.
Ambiguity is an uncertainty factor intentionally designed into the
13 But what we want them to realize is, quite often you're going to be
put in a situation where you dont have all the answers and you
don't have the information. And we want you [the cadets] to have
the wherewithal to reach out and find out the information that you
need (Interview, 1/23/96). ~
One of the goals of the course is to promote "student achievement
of three Academy-wide educational outcomes (framing and resolving ill-
defined problems, communication skills, & [sic] intellectual curiosity"
(ENGR 110 PSS, Preliminary Design Document; Summer, 1995). The ill-
defined problem-solver outcome (see Figure 4.1) provides the designers
and instructors of the course with opportunities to increase ambiguity.
USAFA Problem Solver Educational Outcome
Officers who can frame and resolve ill-defined problems.
Ill-defined problems are ambiguous, interactive and ever-
changing. Framing means constructing a working model,
and revising it based on feedback. Resolving means that an
ill-defined problem is never solved for good; rather it is
solved again and again (re-solved) as the problem is framed
again and again; and, each successive solution is more
The purpose of EngrllOz is to introduce cadets to ambiguous and
authentic engineering problems, problems that have no simple answers.
To do this, the course is structured to simulate the format of an Air Force
System Program Office (SPO) called Falcon Base (Course Policy Letter,
Spring Term, 1996). As one of the interview participants said, "We've sort
of got an idea of which way we want them [the cadets] to go, but were
going to allow them to sort of, you know, find that route on their own
with a little help from us."
The course has a Mars Mission theme and is a primary example of
how ambiguity is introduced into the course. This strategy is important to
the integration of intellectual curiosity, especially to the interest the cadets
have in the course as the following conversation shows.
TC So, with respect to the Engineering 110 class, the way the course is
structured right now, how do you see intellectual curiosity being
SSI I think we're going to do a much better job this semester than we
did last semester. And I think we did a good job last semester.
Students had told us in the focus groups that the Mars scenario
around which we built the course was 100 percent motivating.
Everybody, almost without exception, I think out of the 44 students,
42 told us that the Mars scenario was absolutely critical to holding
their interest (Interview, 1/19/96).
The importance of ambiguity to the course was made obvious when
the process of introducing the course was changed. At the beginning of
the first semester of the new course, the Mars Mission theme was
introduced to the class as having three components: 1) Getting To Mars 2)
Siting and Construction of Falcon Base, and 3) Living and Operating on
Mars. The cadets were asked to discuss the engineering problems
associated with the individual components and to come up with possible
solutions to those problems. Sometime during the first semester, a
decision was made to change the procedure for introducing the course.
During the fall term, the instructors decided that providing cadets
with a structure to follow (the three components of the course) was not
authentic to real engineering situations. They decided the course needed
less structure. At the beginning of the second semester, the theme of the
course was introduced without the three components, and the cadets were
simply told that the mission was to establish a landing site on Mars and
then asked to solve the problem. This first semester course director was
enthusiastic about this change asThedialogue below shows.
CD Now let me tell you what the difference between this semester and
last semester was. Last semester, I broke the course into three parts:
getting to Mars, siting and construction of the base, and moving and
operating. And I told them that up front. I said, "Okay, we're going
to break the course into three parts." Well, this semester, George
said, "Hey, why don't we just let them tell us what they need?"
Well, so sure enough, on lesson one, he wanted to spend lesson one
on admin, stuff. You know, like, Okay, if you're absent, you've got
to give me this. And if you,... if you're going to be gone, tell me
how to get the homework, you know, all the administrative stuff
you normally do on the first day of the course.
I said, George, let's try something new. Let's don't do that. Walk in
the classroom, introduce yourself, and then say, "This course is
about going to Mars and building this research base. I need you to
tell me what we need to do." And, boy, it took about ten minutes,
but they... you know, the noise picked up and pretty soon, some
leaders popped up. There was this one young lady who kind of took
the ball, stood up at the blackboard and got the other kids to give her
information and started writing stuff down. (Interview, 1/24/96)
Focusing on openendedness is another strategy for providing
ambiguity in the course. One problem activity given during the Siting and
Construction part of the course, called "The Dilemma," is an example of
openendedness. The students are asked to solve the problem of building
a new water tank on Mars. The problem is presented with many complex
issues such as gravity, atmospheric pressure, and materials choices to
consider and has no particular "right" answer. The students work in
groups to consider all of the issues and then make presentations
of their conclusions. This importance of openendedness is illustrated in
the instructor comments:
13 ... we [the instructors] spent the last week saying, you know, what
are the important aspects that we should be concerned about? They
went ahead and identified those, and then they asked each of the
people in the class to put themselves in one of the six groups that
they'd be interested in working. We've sort of got an idea of which
way we want them to go, but we're going to allow them to sort of,
you know, find that route on their own with a little help from us.
But the intellectual curiosity part was, we gave them no guidance as
to how you can convince the group that this is a good way to go
14 The intellectual curiosity thing is like, well, if we give them [the
cadets] ill-defined problems, and let them decide how the course is
going to run, and the open-endedness stuff of it, somewhere in
there intellectual curiosity is definitely involved, and we hope that
doing that [giving ill-defined problems], it will instill it.
In the classroom, it appears that the instructors ask many open-
ended questions. Several of the classroom observations involved
counting and labeling the questions being asked. The ratio of open-ended
to closed-ended questions was 3-to-l. The following are examples of the
types of questions often asked in the course.
15 Which area is best suited for a structure and why? What would the
foundation look like? Which area is the most undesirable and
why? (Homework questions from "Field Investigation" activity)
Classroom observations pointed out one interesting problem with
the open-ended questioning strategy. Many of the questions being asked
were open-ended, but when students responded to them, their answers
were often acknowledged with "right", "wrong", "sorta" or similar
To complicate matters, one of the instructors told me in an
interview that he was increasingly encouraged by the power of So era tic
questioning. Socratic questioning is open-ended questioning where the
teacher asks questions to get students to confront some weakness in their
thinking. With Socratic questioning, the point is not to identify facts as
much as to lead thought by continually asking more questions. In this
case, the person who told the researcher he was encouraged by the power
of Socratic questioning is one of the instructors who often acknowledges
students' answers or explanations with closed responses. This illustration
points out that effective Socratic questioning requires particular skills.
Another decision the EngrllOz participants made to increase the
amount of ambiguity was to not use a textbook. This decision was made to
force the students to search for necessary information from various
sources. Before searching for information, the students had to decide
which information was necessary and where that information might
This idea of not having a textbook to add ambiguity appears to be
rather important to the course's instructors.
13 There's no syllabus, you know. We don't even have a textbook.
And theyre being put into a situation that we're going to Mars, and
we're going to get there because of the people in this classroom.
CD And the other thing I was afraid of, there was no textbook in this
course, and there still isn't. And I was thinking, Oh, gee, we're
going to get all kinds of feedback. Oh, my gosh, I felt terribly
nervous. We didn't have a textbook, (pause) Nobody said anything
about it. Nobody!
As the above illustrates, ambiguity was integrated into the course
through the use of a simulated authentic theme, problem-based learning
activities, openendedness, and not providing a textbook. Another way of
integrating intellectual curiosity into the EngrllOz course is through the
use of complexity.
Another uncertainty factor, complexity, is apparent throughout the
course. The course was designed in a way to force cadets to consider
engineering problems within the Mars Mission from multiple
perspectives. In one of the activities, for example, the cadets are asked to
find out what historical precedents there are for the Mars Mission. The
activity requires the cadets to seek out history teachers who can answer
questions about other similar missions in history. The history
consultants are recruited by the EngrllOz instructors to be available for
student interviews during the length of the course. The story of how this
decision was made is told well by the course director.
CD Then last semester, we also had the first couple of lectures in the
course be previous historical examples of major national technical
projects, to give them the sense of the environment and put some
of the problems they might encounter on a similar project in the
Martian plains. We had a lecture on the Manhattan project and a
lecture on the Hollow Project in the history department. They did a
Well, this semester, we said, Lets let them discover that they would
like to learn about some previous projects of a similar nature to
find out what there was to learn. Well, sure enough, they decided
now to go to the history department. Of course the history
department is primed and ready. When they walk in they'll say,
Well, Geez, there is a couple of projects, you know. And theyll say,
Oh, well tell us about that. And they'll say, Well, we just sort of
happen to have a lecture, on the, you know, a lecture. But the point
is, theyre discovering things that we thought we had to know. You
dont have to tell them anything (Interview, 1/19/96).
Another way of integrating complexity into the course is by helping
students see the integrated nature of knowledge. In the Getting To Mars
section of the course, students were asked to respond to the problem of
getting there in terms of economics, life-support, and communications.
CD And youre right about trying to show in this course that all these
problems are very nebulous and complex, and things are tied
together, the electrical, the mechanical and all that stuff, are all part
of the same weave there. And thats another message you want to
get across to them. All the simple problems have been solved.
Novelty is an uncertainty factor that is integrated into the structure
of the course. The EngrllOz course design is atypical of most courses at the
Academy and especially freshman level courses. The course provides no
textbook, no formal syllabus, and is based on a simulation of a mission to
Mars. The Mars Mission simulation is selected because of its novel appeal,
and because of it's realism. For these students, the opportunity to be on
such a mission is a potential reality. Their interest in the theme is
assumed simply due to their interest in being in the Air Force. As the
course director told me,
CD And they're interested,... that's why we created the Mars scenario.
They can get their hands on it. Hey, that's something I can
visualize. I can see it. It's exciting, its interesting." One of the
course developers told me that out of the 44 students enrolled in
the course the first semester, 42 reported that "the Mars scenario
was absolutely critical to holding their interest (Interview, 1/24/96).
Students get briefings about the mission from VIPs and receive
communication from a simulated Director of the Mission, General
Schiarparelli. Also, very distinct from other first year courses at the
Academy is the amount of involvement students have in the direction of
the course. In some instances, students are asked to conduct front-end
briefings about what was last covered in the previous class.
Another novelty factor is the amount of hands-activity associated
with the course. Students build and fly model rockets, construct models of
living spaces amenable to Martian conditions, and conduct investigations
regarding the economic, historical and psychological considerations of the
mission. The importance of novelty is evident in the responses from
several of the interview participants.
TC Q: Do you think the novelty of this course is apparent to the
CD A: In a sense, yes, because it's different, they don't walk in, sit
down, and have some guy walk up to the blackboard with a piece of
chalk. But other than that, they probably don't see all the subtleties
of the differences (Interview, 1/19/96).
Also that7s the whole idea that, and it's hard for us to do, too... that
the teacher is not the fount of all knowledge. The teacher's job is to
create an environment for the student to learn themselves. And
those that have trouble doing that, because they haven't done it in
the past, the teacher is there to help them along. And those that
have done it in the past, and have more confidence, (inaudible) to
kind of get out of their way. But to be a guide, be a facilitator but not
be in the way.
TC Q: Since it's experimental, what's that newness, the novelty?
13 A: I think a lot of things, and probably the most important one is
this idea of theres no syllabus. You know, we dont have a
textbook. And they're being put into a situation that we're going to
Mars, and we're going to get there because of the people in this
classroom. And we've got to go ahead and take a very big problem
like that and break it into small pieces and start working on each of
the pieces. And matching people's expertise with the different
things that need to be done. And there's no other class that does
that (Interview, 1/23/96).
At another interview, I was given this response to a similar
TC Q: When I think about the course as being experimental I'm
thinking about something that's new, you're trying something new.
What is it about Engineering 110 that is experimental? And, why is
12 Its novel from the standpoint of rather than going into the course
and trying to teach a whole bunch of tools to the cadets and then
saying, "All right. Now let's take those tools and apply 'em to a
particular subject." We take the very opposite view from the "just
in time" or "bottom up" type of approach. Yeah, a "just-in-time" or
a "bottom-up approach" that says, "You have a mission that needs
to be accomplished. And along the way its up to the students to
decide how to approach that mission and to determine what tools
they need to accomplish that. And then we, as the experts, can
come in and provide those tools as necessary to help them
accomplish their mission. So thats a...that's very radical in terms
of how you do things in the classroom (1/24/96).
TC Radical here at USAFA.
12 Well, I think it's radical anywhere. Even at other universities
where they have designed courses, they still tend to, in most cases,...
except for a senior level design course,... the tendency is to come
into the classroom and want to teach tools to do a certain thing. As
opposed to saying, "We have something that you need to get done."
Uncertainty factors are evident in the EngrllOz course. Examples of
ambiguity, complexity, and novelty are evident in instruction and were
mentioned by instructors as particular strategies used in the course. The
Mars Mission theme, with its focus on problem-solving, appears to be a
primary means of including ambiguity in the course. The instructors of
the course have expanded the amount of ambiguity introduced into the
course by eliminating some of the structure of the course. One change
made in the design of the course for the second semester, was not
providing cadets with any particular structure to the course in the form of
a syllabus. Instead, the cadets were asked to provide their own structure
for solving the problem of getting to, establishing a living site, living and
operating on Mars.
Openendedness appears to be a way intellectual curiosity is
integrated into EngrllOz. No solutions are provided to the problems the
cadets encounter during problem-solving. Instructors intentionally
remove themselves from the problem-solving and function as guides,
directing cadets to places where pertinent information may reside. While
there is enthusiasm about the idea of Socratic questioning, effective use of
the method may still be a skill the instructors need to learn. Another way
ambiguity is increased in the course is by not providing a textbook. The
instructors of the course did not want the cadets to find textbook answers,
but to rely more on their individual creativity.
Complexity is designed into the course by asking cadets to view the
problems they deal with from multiple perspectives. Finding historical
precedence is one way of providing different perspectives. Other activities
ask the cadets to respond to the various aspects of the mission from an
economics perspective, a life-support perspective, and a communications
Novelty is included by incorporating a thematic and problem-
solving approach to the course. The cadets reported that the Mars Mission
simulation was the most important aspect of the course for maintaining
their attention. Novelty is incorporated in the course in other ways such
the novelty of providing freshman cadets with hands-on learning
experiences like model rocket building and launching which is
nontraditional as far as the Academy is concerned. Instructors reported
the novelty of the course design is an important aspect of the course.
The design of the EngrllOz course and the learning tasks provided
in it are sufficient to arouse intellectual curiosity. Sustaining intellectual
curiosity over the length of the learning tasks is a different matter. Choice,
challenge, control, and collaboration, all factors for sustaining interest, are
also evident in the course.
Learning contexts that sustain interest in learning provide choice,
challenge, control and collaboration. The following shows how each of
these factors is included in the EngrllOz course.
Providing students with choices is another way of sustaining
students' interest. EngrllOz instructors provide opportunities for students
to make choices in several ways. First, they are given the opportunity to
select their own collaboration groups to work with. Second, they are given
a choice about which projects they would like to work on. Third, in
hands-on activities such as model rocket building and building a Falcon
Air Base model, cadets can choose the size, design, types of to use and the
method of development. In one classroom observation made (10/3/95),
the cadets were offered supplemental "get well" projects to help them raise
their grades, but it was their choice whether or not they wished to
complete the projects. Choice appears to be available to cadets in many
aspects of the design of the course.
The value placed on providing cadets with choices seems to have
increased over time, as the following dialogue illustrates. Several
instructors expressed similar sentiments about providing choices.
TC Q: Do they have other choices that they can make, in terms of how
they represent their knowledge, or...in the course, choices that they
can make about avenues they can go down?
13 A: The first semester...last semester, no. This semester, yes. Right
up front. Rather than up front last semester, we said that the course
is divided into thirds. In this section, were going to "do" getting to
Mars. The second section is, now that were there, lets put a
building there. And the final one is, now we have a building, let's
provide power to it.
This time around, where we spent the last week saying, you know,
what are the important aspects that we should be concerned about?
They went ahead and identified those, and then they asked each of
the people in the class to put themselves in one of the six groups
that theyd be interested in working? (Interview, 1/23/96)
Later in the interview, this same instructor stated that providing
choice and control in the learning tasks has brought about an important
result. The comments allude to the importance instructors place on
student-centered learning rather than teacher-centered learning.
13 A: But they have ownership now, and they're the ones who decide.
And it might be that they'll come up with topics that we havent
thought of that would be, you know, better suited to the class than
the ones we've come up with. And we're open to that. I mean,
there's,...in a general way, we know what topics we'd like to cover,
but you know, if they come up with something else, that's fine
In an interview with another instructor, it was expressed that
choices are intentionally included in the design of the course to foster self-
regulated learning. However, even though ownership and self-directed
learning are desired end-products of the course, one of the instructional
support staff didn't express confidence that theory was, in fact, being
turned into practice.
TC Q You talked about the idea of one of the overall, overriding
strategies is this idea of self-regulated learning. Now, that to me
says that somehow a person in the course, a student in the course,
would have choices to make and decisions to make about how to
navigate through the course.
SSI A: Yes.
TC Q: Do you build in opportunities for them to make choices?
SSI A: Ill have to get back to you on that. Because this is really the first
semester we've done that. Last semester we didn't do that terribly.
This semester we have talked about we aren't going to let them go
too far astray. But it's too, it's, you know, it's only the fourth lesson.
I don't know what's going to happen. Oh, I don't know that that's
happening (Interview, 1/19/96).
Providing students with choices is not something familiar to the
instructors of EngrllOz. The school has a tradition of delivering direct and
didactic instruction primarily through a lecture format. All of the
instructors of EngrllOz are also engineers who have a history of dealing
with effectiveness and efficiency issues. The EngrllOz course is a
challenge to the their sensibilities as the following dialogue illustrates.
TC Q: Do you think theres anything in the course thats working
against your intentions in die course?
12 A: Well, if anything, it's our own biases. It's very difficult for us to
totally follow our game plan at times, 'cause all of us, were all
TC Q: Are you?
12 A: That's what we've been doing forever. And so, it's so easy to
forget that that's what you're trying to do, and slip back into... you
know, everybody wants to treat their students, at some time or
another like, you would your own child. And they come to you and
they want help, and it's much easier to just to just give them the
12 So if anything works against us, it's our background.
TC It's your engineeringness; you want efficiency.
12 That's right. You want it and that's the way you do it.
TC Yeah. Cut to the chase. I hear that one all the time, cut to the chase.
12 Well, of course, our flying operations, those of us that are operators,
we tend to be that way. The flying business is not a business of
12 The flying business is a way of business, here's the right way to do it,
and you better dam well do it that way. So we do tend to think that
way (Interview, 1/24/96).
One issue appearing to confound one instructor was that the cadets
in EngrllOz are not given a choice to be in the course in the first place; the
course is not an elective, but is in the first stages of becoming part of the
core curriculum. A question was asked about the challenge level of the
course, but the researcher thought the response was more illustrative of
some of the varying opinions about providing cadets with choices.
TC Q: So how do you know how to be optimally challenging for these
people so that they're productive instead of frozen or bored?
16 A: That's a good question. I don't know that anybody knows the
answer to that. I think we rely... I rely heavily on past experience,
where a person in a certain age group, a certain maturity level
ought to be. A lot of it is... I was about to say a lot of it is personality
and personal interest perhaps. If this was not a core course, a
required course, but an elective, and I knew that everybody chose to
be there, then I might answer the question differently. Although
after seeing that, you know, the classic E-mentality, ready-fire-aim,
it just doesnt sound right (Interview, 1/8/96).
Providing cadets with choices appears to be an important ingredient
in the EngrllOz course. It also appears to be an issue that takes some
getting used to on the part of the instructors. Through time, the amount
of choice provided cadets seems to have increased as the attempt to invoke
a sense of ownership in the learning process has increased.
Optimal challenge, like complexity, is arousing of intellectual
curiosity. Having challenging learning situations is evocative of students'
interest and interest sustains curiosity. The problem for the EngrllOz
instructors and designers is providing an optimal challenge for a very
diverse group of cadets. Not all of the cadets in the EngrllOz course had
the same backgrounds in science and math which presents a problem
when designing engineering learning tasks to be optimally challenging.
The course director addressed this issue during the interview.
TC Q: One of the concerns that Ive heard is that the challenge level of
the course, in terms of engineering, might be too low for some, and
then too high for others.
CD A: Well, the feedback we got is interesting. We...there was no
feedback that says the challenge wasn't enough. But there was some
feedback, Oh, Geez, sir, a physics background and a math
background, you taxed us too much there. Though we know we
didn't. (Interview, 1/24/96)
Like the course director, the instructors of this course thought the
challenge level was appropriate. Not one of the persons I interviewed
thought the challenge level too high. Some of there comments about the
challenge level are as follows.
TC Q: Another issue that comes up in the literature is the idea of ag-
let's see if I can,... a challenge. And I'd like you to comment on the
challenge level of the course. Do you think its [the challenge level
of the course] appropriate or what do you think?
SSI A: I think its probably appropriate. Again, as I said before, a
number of students, about 40 percent, indicated that they didn't
have the prerequisite math and physics. And we didn't spoon feed
them that. So they had to come up to speed for that. Students that
came to us with advanced math or calculus or earth physics did
very well. You know, youre going to have this when we accept
students from 50 states in the nation. We really had a cross section
here. I think there're opportunities in the course...there are so
many opportunities in the course to go beyond the bare minimum
that students cant help but be challenged. (Interview, 1/19/96)
TC Q: How is the challenge level in the class, in terms of the amount
of content, difficulty of the content?
13 A: I havent taught any other freshman class. I don't have an idea
for difficulty level. But I think probably what their difficulty... main
difficulty is, is they're uncomfortable dealing with the unknown. It
says, give me a syllabus, tell me what Im supposed to read, what
homework problems Im supposed to do, and I'll do those. And I'll
memorize this stuff and Ill be ready for the test. And they're not in
that kind of environment now. And I think that early on, theyre a
little uncomfortable with it. Like, when are we really going to get
into the class. But as the semester goes along, you see it. Like in the
final exams, we saw a lot of... you know, this open endedness and
intellectual curiosity in their answers, that they were reaching out
and bringing in a lot of different ideas. And Id like to think it was
because of what happened during the semester. (Interview, 1/23/96)
TC Q: Have you had any specific comments made by students about the
challenge level, about the difficulty of it?
13 A: No. About the only thing Ive heard was indirectly. And that
was from one of the students that, the very first day of class this
semester, said that he heard from his roommate that it was a tough
course, because there was lots to do.
The idea of challenge is also mentioned several times in the design
proposal for the Performance Support System, an electronic performance
support tool being designed by the support staff.
PSS An important goal for us is to have you complete EngrllOz with an
understanding of how basic principles of science and engineering
combined with applicable social issues are used collectively to solve
complex technological problems. We'll work hard to instill and
reinforce in you an enhanced confidence in your ability to tackle
challenges that have no textbook solution.
In one classroom observation, I thought the challenge level of the
lesson was too high. My reason for thinking this way had to do with the
types of questions the instructor at the time was asking and the cadet
responses, or lack of responses, to them. The questions I observed being
asked were mostly closed-ended. For example, "What was the difference
in the way we modeled our SSBM and the way we modeled a brick in a
vacuum?" This question was asked on September, 19,1995 during the first
semester the EngrllOz course was taught. The cadets were first semester
students and did not all have science backgrounds. The response to the
question was silence. I read the silence as being indicative of the cadets not
knowing the answer to the question and, further, not wanting to risk
being exposed for not knowing.
On another dassroom observation later in the course, I thought my
original concern about the challenge level of questioning was supported. I
heard a student ask, "How do you use the spreadsheet to graph equations
to plot altitude?" (Classroom observation, 11/17/96) I remarked in my
notes that I thought at this point in the course the cadets should already
know how to work a spreadsheet. The intident indicated to me that the
challenge level of the course may be too high. Providing optimally
challenging instruction is not easy to do.
Providing students autonomy and control over learning is another
means of sustaining their interest. The intent of EngrllOz was to provide
autonomy and control over some tasks.
CD ..we were going to allow them to investigate each of these different
areas. And come back and present their results.
Well, as far as intellectual curiosity goes, I think if you provide
them with a sandbox and the freedom to play in it, that it just seems
to happen. It seems that they pick up on it. Now, the strategy, I
think is, first of all, let's create an environment in the classroom
where they really do feel free to explore. (Interview, 1/24/96)
In the course, cadets are given tasks over which they have complete
control. From the very beginning of the course, cadets are given control
since they are asked to make decisions about how to solve the problem of
getting to and living on Mars. The cadets are also given control over the
management of the briefings they give to the class about the progress of
their individual group projects. Other tasks that provide cadets with
control include collaborative building of a model rocket, and designing
and building of a model housing facility for the Falcon Air Base. The
importance of student control is expressed in the following dialogues.
TC Q: Now, the cadets can decide on what they're going to do to
represent their knowledge. Do they also have control over how
they're going to do it?
17 A: I think the most significant changes we're really trying to create
in the course is a student center environment, where the student
will have ownership, and for... not all through the course, but for a
significant part of it. I think the most important thing is that I want
them to feel that what they are doing is a good learning experience
for them, something that they have generated. I cant think of
another way to say it, except for the ownership. (Interview, 1/23/ 96)
13 A: They have complete control over their projects. But as we got
into the next third of the course, where we were talking about siting
on Mars, where they were going to put the building, they had
complete control, it was a group working on, you know, how this
building was going to look and where was it going to be. And it was
completely up to them. And they could take it...you know, there
were some minimum things they had to cover, but they could take
it just as far as they wanted to. (Interview, 1/23/96)
In the second semester of the course, the idea of giving students
control over events became more important.
13 A: But it seems like this semester we're concentrating on
continuing the right things that we did last semester, but also trying
to, even provide more, I dont want to say "fuzziness and not "lack
of structure," but allow them to guide the course as opposed to us
guiding the course. We want them to guide themselves, not us.
Collaboration is also a focus outcome of this course. The
educational outcome states that the Academy wants "Officers who can
work effectively with others" (see Figure 4.2). Every instructor I talked to
stressed the importance of collaboration. Below are some examples of the
value of this outcome as expressed by the instructors of the course.
16 A: We had one piece of feedback last term where, when we asked
this of the cadets (about collaboration] and we allowed them to work
in pairs, because another part of what we consider to be valuable
learning is when they can communicate with each other in a
problem setting like this. They can sit down and discuss. They can
even argue about what is an average weight for how many cadets,
you know. (Interview, 1/23/96)
12 A: ...we wanted these officers, these cadets, these future officers to
be in a state of mind where they were both independent thinkers,
they could work in teams to do what they needed to do. And so one
of the things that I've tried to emphasize from the beginning was
let's make sure that we keep telling these students that engineers as
a whole, all of them, are really very similar people in that they all
have to work together. You have to remember that if that person
isn't capable of working with a bigger group of engineers in a
broader sense, that theyre fairly limited in what they can
accomplish. (Interview, 1/24/96)
13 A: ...in the military now, everything is done in groups and it's done
in teams, and being a member of the team and knowing how to
function with the team is very important. (Interview, 1/23/96)
USAFA Collaborative/Cooperative Worker Educational Outcome
Officers who can work effectively with others.
Officers work with people varying in rank, position, gender, race,
attitudes, abilities, cultural backgrounds, etc. And they do so facing
diverse tasks and demands. While there is no simple recipe for
success, working effectively with others involves the ability to adapt
to a wide variety of working relationships and challenges in ways
which foster both mutual and long-term unit effectiveness.
One way the instructors provide opportunities for collaboration is
by having cadets put a briefing together. Collaborative groups are arranged
and given the responsibility for certain aspects of the project. In the Siting
and Construction phase of the course, for example, one team was in charge
of deciding where to do site construction. After deliberating on the project
for several days, they were required to brief the rest of the class on their
decision. They also had to give reasons for their decision. The groups I
observed doing this were all in groups of three and had divided up the
responsibilities of the briefing amongst themselves. Each of these
briefings was critiqued by the instructors using a rubric. One example of
classroom collaboration that I observed during the Siting and
Construction phase of the course had groups work together to make
decisions regarding the consolidation of siting priorities. (Classroom
The effect of collaboration on intellectual curiosity did not go
unnoticed by the staff. One support staff member said,
SSI A: I think we saw some real growth in the group work. In the
beginning, less than half of the students told us that they liked
group work. They didn't feel their groups were functioning very
well. By the end of the semester there was a real change in that.
And I don't know what happened there, but I know that things did
change. And I think we saw groups working off of each other and
collaborating more and that somehow aroused their intellectual
curiosity. (Interview, 1/19/96)
Collaboration is an instructional strategy being employed in the
EngrllOz course. Cadets in the course are provided many opportunities
for collaborating with each other. They work with each other on hands-on
building projects, they work in small decision-making groups during class
time, and they work together in briefing committees to present the results
of their research. The effects of collaboration on cadets seems to be
positive. The effects of collaboration of intellectual curiosity has not been
determined. As a matter of fact, the effects of any of the instructional
strategies used to arouse and sustain intellectual curiosity has yet to be
determined. The assessment of intellectual curiosity appears to be an
Choice, challenge, control, and collaboration are integrated into the
EngrllOz course. Cadets are given many opportunities to make choices.
They are given collaborative group choices, project choices, materials
choices, and choices about receiving extra help. Providing cadets with
authentic challenges is a difficult issue for the participants in EngrllOz.
There are basic scientific principles the instructors feel the cadets should
learn. However, since not all of the cadets are engineering majors and the
fact that not all of the cadets have a similar scientific background, finding
the optimal range of challenge and complexity is difficult. With regard to
control, since the premise of the EngrllOz course is to simulate authentic
engineering experiences, providing control to the cadets over the direction
of the simulated Mars Mission is a primary means of engaging cadets in
the content. Collaboration is another focus outcome for the EngrllOz
course. Therefore, cadets are frequently required to work in groups.
Collaboration is initially an unfamiliar experience for cadets.
Nonetheless, it appears to be a positive instructional strategy for arousing
and sustaining cadets' interest in the course.
As the next section describes, one unresolved issue regarding the
integration of the intellectual curiosity outcome into the EngrllOz course
Assessing Intellectual Curiosity
The EngrllOz course participants constructed a matrix to assess the
effects of the course on cadets' problem-solving skills, on their
collaborative working skills, and on their intellectual curiosity. Part of the
assessment matrix is a survey called the Cognitive Skills Survey.
The cadets in EngrllOz were given the survey at the beginning of
each semester. The intellectual curiosity response items with the item
numbers used on the survey were: 1) I must look for opportunities to
learn beyond specific course requirements; 3) I look for opportunities to
learn beyond specific course requirements; 5g) If I find a topic interesting, I
will pursue it on my own beyond what is needed to do well in a course. A
five point Likert-type response is provided for each item.
Another part of the assessment matrix is requiring cadets to
maintain a "Performance Documentation Log." The students keep a daily
log of activities related to the course. The course participants use the logs
to identify those efforts of the students that go beyond the minimal
requirements of the course. The instructors of the course also keep a log of
class observations. Log entries about intellectual curiosity are about
observing students doing more than is required in the course.
One of the instructional support staff found a list of World Wide
Web sites about Mars and provided this list to the cadets. The instructors
do not require the use of the World Wide Web but observe the use of it as
an indicator of aroused intellectual curiosity.
13 A: We're not going to tell them to do that [use the WWW]. We
probably wont even remind them that its there. But to see if
they're going to seek that avenue.
At the beginning of the second semester of the course, the EngrllOz
course participants wrote a revised assessment plan. One of the goals of
the assessment plan was to develop an assessment strategy for intellectual
curiosity to support EngrllOz (Revised Assessment Plan, 1/13/96). The
strategy for developing the assessment plan included three basic steps: 1)
to develop basic rubrics (statement of standards) for judging intellectual
curiosity, 2) define what is the most important definition, and 3) for each
performance deliverable, identify the opportunity for the student to show
intellectual curiosity. The revised assessment strategy also included a plan
to assess attitudes through "less directive assessment." That is,
intellectual curiosity assessment data would come from interviews,
student journals, "pre and post course FR" (framing and resolving)
problems, a record of the students use of secondary materials, and a record
of student efforts to do extra.
Three principles guiding the assessment strategy were: to include
steps to judge performance, 2) to have steps to ensure reliability and
validity, and 3) to have steps to standardize judgments to make them
comparable over time or with controls.
Despite this list of seemingly formal methods for assessing the
impact of the course on students' intellectual curiosity, the instructors are
still unsure of how intellectual curiosity is measured. As one instructor
told me when asked about the assessment issue,
13 A: "Now, what Im hoping, and I dont know how we could go
about measuring it, but by the end of the course, I think that all of
the students were probably be up at that initial level. And then
hopefully we took some that were already... you know, had some
high degree of intellectual curiosity, you know, and even boosted it
In another interview, one of the instructional support staff
confessed to giving up on the assessment issue. My question to her
assumed they had a formal assessment plan since I had read the Revised
Assessment Matrix document.
TC Q: In the design process did you have to come up with, well, you did
come up with very specific assessment strategies.
SSI A: What weve done, quite frankly, for intellectual curiosity is
elected not to make that our focus for last semester. This
assessment process is going to take place over a series... over six
TC Q: Are there some things about the kind of assessment strategies
that you can... are there some things they're not showing?
SSI A: I do have concerns about the, you know, it's a high,... it's a high
maintenance course. I have concerns about having assessments. I
have concerns about the assessment process itself. I mean, are we
doing...Are we looking at the framing and resolving processes
correctly. I think we are. I don't know anybody else who is doing it
better than they are. But that doesnt mean that we can't do a better
One of the issues that came up during the interviews about
assessing intellectual curiosity had to do with validity and reliability. The
course director had asked the instructional support staff to conduct a
nationwide search for a valid and reliable measure of curiosity. The
concern expressed by the course director was to be able to be able to
represent the effect of the course on intellectual curiosity as a standardized
number. The search yielded several instruments but as of the writing of
this thesis, the measures had not yet been used. Some of the concern for
validity and reliability are demonstrated in the following dialogues.
TC Q: The next question has to do with the assessment strategies that
you've decided on. How are you going to get at knowing whether
or not you're impacting the way you want to impact?
16 A: Well, you think,... first of all, what effects do you think this
course is having on students intellectual curiosity? The assessment
items could be included in the course critiques that the cadets do
every semester. I think some of them do it twice a semester. And
probably over a period of maybe, the six semesters that the
Engineering 110 course is going to exist, they could do their own
validation and reliability study (Interview, 1/24/96).
TC Q: The next questions are assessment questions, and you've already
alluded to a lot of this, and it's going to sound redundant, but I just
want to see what your particular answers are. You're using this
assessment matrix that you all came up with; right? I wonder, do
you have any concerns or criticisms of that strategy?
12 A: We are very concerned at this point that we're getting
quantitative analysis of that [intellectual curiosity. I,... and I think
Dr. H. and I both have been relying upon SSI and the consultants
that she has brought in to be the ones that have looked at
assessment long enough that they understand the ways you can
evaluate whether or not the students are accomplishing those
outcomes that you have Because none of us tend,... we dont claim
to be experts in assessment. So our concern at this time is that at
times its seen through us to be very qualitative in nature and not
quantitative in the sense that we can definitely say this effect is
occurring. We all have real good feelings out of this thing. Were
convinced were doing the right things. We feel good about it, but
that's a dangerous thing in my mind, because we know that we all
want to see what we do be successful, and therefore, we tend to see it
as being successful. So we would want an outsider to look in and
somehow quantify those things for us. And if there's any concerns
we have right now is that we feel like an awful lot of the assessment
feedback that were getting is qualitative in nature and not
One instructor, however, who seemed less concerned about
quantifying the effects of the course on intellectual curiosity, said he
thought that a good measure for the effects of the course on cadets
intellectual curiosity would be how many students declared engineering as
a major as a result of the course.
13 It will be interesting to see if we, you know, get more engineering
majors by virtue of this, because I think the course would do a good
job of showing that engineering is fun and its exciting. And, you
know, the sky's the limit. They can reach out and do anything
When asked what assessment strategies were currently being
employed by the EngrllOz staff, one instructor responded with a
qualitative plan for assessing the effects of the course.
I don't know if we have anything in place at this time, but to
interview them a little bit further along the road. Like if they get
into their sophomore or their junior class, if we could take time to
interview them and say, you're doing this thing now, this study
right now. Think back of when you were in Engineering 110, is
there something back there that took place that is helping you now?
The issue of an assessment plan, at least at the time of this writing,
is not resolved. A formal plan appears to have be written and yet none of
the interviewees acknowledged the plan in the interviews. Some of the
EngrllOz expressed great concern that assessment of intellectual curiosity
would be left to soft qualitative measures. Some other were insistent on
quantitative methods for assessing the effects of the course on intellectual
curiosity. Several offered specific strategies for assessing the impact of the
course on cadets. The assessment of intellectual curiosity, for the EngrllOz
staff, is still a debatable issue.
That intellectual curiosity is an issue at the Academy is evident in
its inclusion as an educational outcome. Intellectual curiosity is an issue
because the Academy is attempting to address modem problems with
modem educational focuses. It is not sufficient for modem Air Force
officers to function in outmoded ways. The world is increasingly complex
and Air Force officers must be ready to deal with this complexity.
The Academy has not specified the exact meaning of intellectual
curiosity. Nor, is the definition completely clear to the course participants.
There are informal ideas about what it means that seem consistent with
what the literature says. The ideas about its meaning include knowing
how to learn, willingness to learn, having personal interests, antithetical
positioning to cynicism, ability to know, individual versus situational
curiosity or interest, and creativity.
The course participants have attempted to integrate intellectual
curiosity into the EngrllOz course. The strategies and tactics employed
appear to include many uncertainty and interest factors. Ambiguity,
complexity, and novelty are apparent in the overall design and individual
lessons. The novelty of the course is apparent to the students and
apparently a major force in maintaining their interest. There are many
interest factors embedded within the course including opportunities for
students to make choices, be in control of their own learning, and to
collaborate. The idea of optimal challenge is also a major consideration in
the design of the course.
How intellectual curiosity should be assessed is still not apparent to
the course designers and participants. Individually, the interviewees
appear certain the course is having a positive effect on students'
intellectual curiosity and the reasons for their certainty reflect what the
literature says is an expected behavior, exploratory behavior. However,
there is currently no formal means of assessing the effect of the course on
the cadets' intellectual curiosity. The instructors believe that a first step
toward the development of a viable assessment system for intellectual
curiosity is to first come to conclusion about its definition. Their goal is to
create an assessment system to gather data based on appropriate indicators
of intellectual curiosity.
The research participants all express great confidence in the new
EngrllOz course. Except for the assessment issue, they also express
confidence in the instructional strategies employed in the course. The
course is commissioned for six semesters and there is little reason to doubt
its eventual inclusion as a core course within the Academy's curriculum.
There is evidence that the impact of the course is reaching further than
the cadets in the course. Several instructors from other departments have
observed the course in action and have expressed enthusiasm for the
model. The future of EngrllOz and its influence throughout the Academy
DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In this section, the Academy's purpose of.the intellectual curiosity
outcome and their definition of the construct is discussed. How the
outcome was integrated into the EngrllOz course and how the course
participants assessed the effects of the course on cadets' intellectual
curiosity is also discussed. Two recommendations to the Academy are
provided along with two suggestions for further research.
The effective integration of intellectual curiosity into course design
involves knowing what intellectual curiosity is, how to promote it and
how to assess it. The first step in designing a course is to identify the
purpose of the outcome. Step two is developing a working definition of
the construct. The third step is designing instructional strategies based on
the research literature about how to arouse and sustain intellectual
curiosity. Step four is identifying assessment strategies that measure the
effects of the course on intellectual curiosity.
Purpose of the Intellectual Curiosity Outcome
The United States Air Force Academy wants their graduating
officers to be intellectually curious, life-long learners. They have written
an educational outcome to direct instructional efforts toward this issue.
The purpose of the intellectual curiosity outcome is not directly evident
from institutional publications. However, the purpose becomes apparent
in responses given by instructors to questions about it.
The most often stated purposes for incorporating the intellectual
curiosity educational outcome is the evolving nature of the world and the
role of Air Force officers play within it. With the onset of super-
sophisticated weaponry with global implications, the Air Force feels it
necessary to train officers who are capable of understanding and dealing
with complexity, open to change, flexible and creative thinkers, and
willing to continue to learn. For the Academy, this means focusing on
developing intellectually curious, lifelong learners.
Defining the Construct
The intention of the Academy is to integrate the concept of
intellectual curiosity into its whole program. However, the evidence
shows that the Academy has not formally adopted a definition for the
construct. The Faculty Handbook and the Unit Self-Assessment alludes to
a definition of intellectual curiosity. It refers to intellectual curiosity as an
attitude that predisposes a person toward lifelong learning. However,
neither document contains a formal definition of the construct. The lack
of a formal definition becomes a problem when instructors attempt to
incorporate the outcome in the design of their classes. As the EngrllOz
instructor wrestled with how to assess it, their discussions continually
pointed to the fact that they had no formal definition. They have an
intuitive understanding of its meaning but no formal definition. Many
responses to the researcher's questions about its meaning began with, "I
don't know" or "I'm not sure, but...". Even the consultants hired to help
the EngrllOz faculty mentioned the faculty's incomplete understanding of
the concept. Regarding intellectual curiosity and the EngrllOz course, the
consultants consider defining the construct a priority.
The Air Force instructors collectively had an intuitive sense about
the concept of intellectual curiosity that was close to what the literature
says about it. Answers to my question about the meaning of intellectual
curiosity include ideas about willingness, interest, and individual versus
situational curiosity. Many answers to the question brought up other
links to curiosity like creativity and anxiety.
Defining intellectual curiosity is problematic for the EngrllOz team.
One unexpected response, for example, linked intellectual curiosity to a
lack of cynicism. According to the respondent, cynisdsm is a problem at
the Academy. The response given to the intellectual curiosity question
suggests that, at least for this person, cynicism is the opposite of
intellectual curiosity. It is not clear what the person means by this, but it
may be that the person thinks cynicism is not characteristic of an
intellectually curious person. The person could also have been referring
to nihilism rather than cynicism since a cynic displays contempt while a
nihilist displays skepticism. A nihilist would not see a reason to study or
learn new things. This incident is not helpful in providing a definition
for intellectual curiosity but does reveal the difficulty this person, at least,
has defining it.
Integrating the Outcome in Course Design
Even though the EngrllOz course participants had no formal
definition, they integrated intellectual curiosity into the course effectively.
Their course design included two other educational outcomes focusing the
course. According to the research literature, both of these outcomes,
problem solver and collaborative worker, foster intellectual curiosity
because they contribute to ambiguity and complexity. The focus on these
two other outcomes also contributes to the novelty of the course, but this
novelty might not be readily apparent to first semester freshmen who
have no previous experience with traditional Academy courses.
A thematic approach focusing on problem solving and
collaboration results in lessons that are hands-on, authentic, and involve
generative learning activities (Grabinger & Dunlap, 1995). This approach
contributes to the successful integration of intellectual curiosity because it
provides challenge and opportunities for students to be in control and to
One other aspect of the course indicative of the instructors'
intuitive sense regarding intellectual curiosity is their sensitivity to
finding optimal challenge levels with the content. For two instructors, the
optimal challenge level issue was a particularly critical issue. These two
instructors, who had never previously taught a freshman level course,
were not happy with the level of challenge in the course. They felt the
challenge level was too low because there was not enough content
presented in the course. One instructor not affiliated with the EngrllOz
course told me that the traditional approach to course delivery was to
"pump them full of information the first two years and let them play with
the information the last two years" (Informal conversation, Fall, 1995).
This was interpreted to mean that the Academy has traditionally seen the
first two years of school as a time to teach cadets skills and facts. Freshman
level courses tend to be lecture-and-test types of courses with little
opportunity for students to interact with the instructor or the content.
The last two years are dedicated to applying knowledge to authentic
problems and projects. According, to the literature, this type of learning
environment is not conducive to arousing or sustaining intellectual
EngrllOz is intentionally organized in quite a different manner
than traditional freshman courses. The course director is adamant in
about how to teach young engineers, that an introductory engineering
course should be a "sandbox" and the students should be allowed to play
in it (Interview with CD, 1/24/96). More exploratory learning experiences,
according to the course director, at the introductory level would in later
courses, raise question that are more strictly tied to specific content.
Students are more likely to see the complexity of engineering problems
and not resort to purely textbook answers.
This argument between the two pedagogical camps resulted in the
reassignment of one teacher. Another skeptical instructor who had
expressed similar concerns, retired. These events lead up the assigning of
other personnel who more closely fit the philosophical paradigm of the
course. One of those became the course director for the second semester.
This story illustrates the paradigm shift that is critical to integrating
constructs like intellectual curiosity. Some schools have an underlying
efficiency paradigm in which progress, for engineers, is measured by how
effective and efficient one is in solving problems. Engineers, after all,
need to know a lot of facts and formulas and when to apply them. Many
are convinced there is an urgency in knowing these facts and formulas
since they believe that solutions to real problems can't occur with out
The struggle also lies with the shift of responsibility for learning
from teacher to student. Teachers in the EngrllOz are gradually moving
away from a direct instruction model to a guided learning model which
requires a belief that students can and will learn information not
presented in lecture format. This is not an easy step for engineers focused
on effectiveness and efficiency.
Including concepts like intellectual curiosity in a list of educational
outcomes does not guarantee desired results. Just because the system has
the outcome does not mean those responsible for implementing the
outcome necessarily understand what it means or how to accomplish it.
Educational systems with outcomes should include opportunities for the
instructional staff to learn and talk about issues related to their outcomes.
It would have been helpful for EngrllOz instructors to have read
something about the concept and had an opportunity to collectively
developed a working definition. The instructors in EngrllOz appear to
have an intuitive sense about what it means to be intellectually curious,
but no agreed upon definition from which to work. A formal
understanding of the concept and a working definition would have
resulted in fewer problems with issues related to the assessment of
Based on informal observations, many of the strategies incorporated
in the EngrllOz course design appear to be effective in arousing
intellectual curiosity. However, the selection of these strategies was based
on intuition rather than a body of literature. Intuitively, these instructors
sensed that ambiguity was an effective strategy to promote intellectual
curiosity and that a students' willingness to go beyond the basics was a
good indicator. Knowledge of the literature on curiosity and interest
would have informed them that 1) good strategies for arousing
intellectual curiosity are those that introduce uncertainty into the learning
tasks in the form of ambiguity, novelty, complexity, absurdity, and 2)
providing choices, opportunities for autonomy, collaboration and optimal
challenge levels fosters interest. It would have also informed them that
other indicators of intellectual curiosity besides going beyond basic
requirements are 1) cognitive engagement and task persistence, 2)
freedom from distraction and an internalized locus of control, 3)
increased questioning, and 4) metacognitive self-reflection and self-
The knowledge that the two sister focus outcomes of the course,
problem solving and collaboration, happened to be simultaneously
fadlitative of the intellectual curiosity outcome is also important One
instructor sensed this was the case and even presented the arguement to
the larger group, but the larger group remained unconvinced of this
supposition. Designing instruction, learning tasks and assessment systems
for each independent outcome is not necessary if one understands that the
effective problem-solver, effective communicator, and intellectually
curious, life-long learn outcomes overlap.
Knowledge of the literature on curiosity and interest also supports
the argument that the instrument used to assess intellectual curiosity need
not be a standardized individual measure of intellectual curiosity
competence (Raven, 1984). Viewing the construct as a social concept in
which the student interacts with the learning environment allows for
alternative means of assessing the effects of the Academy's efforts to
develop intellectual curiosity. In the opinion of the researcher,
assessment of the effective integration of the intellectual curiosity
outcome is based on analysis of the instructional system and students'
response to it. Because intellectual curiosity is a dynamic concept that ebbs
and flows depending on the individual and the environment, it defies
conventional measurement (Raven, 1984 ). Therefore, assessment of a
dynamic concept like curiosity should be based on multiple factors
including: 1) evidence in the design of the course of factors that promote
intellectual curiosity, 2) evidence of the arousal of intellectual curiosity
resulting from those factors, 3) evidence that instructors are models of
Some of the research questions used in this study to provide
evidence of the effective integration of intellectual curiosity in EngrllOz
were: 1) Is the course designed to arouse intellectual curiosity? If so, what
strategies are used? 2) How are the students responding to the course
design in terms of the intellectual curiosity outcome? 3) Do the
instructors at the Academy see themselves models of intellectually
curious, life-long learners? If so, what are the indicative attributes of these
Assessing the Effects
According to the designers and instructors of EngrllOz, the primary
indicator that intellectual curiosity is being aroused in the cadets is that
they voluntarily go beyond the basic requirements of the course.
Interviews with faculty about this primary indicator show that the
instructors do not have formal agreed upon indicators of what it means to
go beyond basic requirements. The instructors provided opportunities for
cadets to find information about the Mars Mission on their own, such as a
list of World Wide Web (WWW) sites relevant to the Mars theme.
Several instructors reported that they witnessed a few cadets going beyond
requirements by accessing the WWW sites and bringing additional
materials or information related to the theme to class. Because they had
no formal agreement of the indicators or method of documenting
examples of cadets going beyond basic requirements, other instances of this
primary indicator may have occurred but were not noted.
A secondary indicator of the arousal of intellectual curiosity is the
quality of student questions. Many instructors report that students, over
time, ask increasingly more complex questions. They also report that the
types of questions the cadets ask appear to be shifting from questions about
what will be on the graded review exams to questions arising from a need
to know. The literature identifies a need to know as cognitive uncertainty.
Cognitive uncertainty is an indicator of aroused intellectual curiosity.
A third indicator of the influence of the course on students'
intellectual curiosity is the feedback from other students and instructors.
The feedback from students not enrolled in the course is that they hear
that the course is challenging but also very interesting. The feedback from
other instructors comes indirectly. Some come to observe and talk about
the class. Some cadets report that based on this course considering
changing their major to engineering. These are the major indicators the
faculty has chosen to assess the effects of the course in terms of the
intellectual curiosity outcome. However, when asked about the affect of
the course on cadets' intellectual curiosity, the instructors express a lack of
confidence in the indicators they have chosen because they are qualitative
not quantitative measures (Interview with 13, 1/24/96). Although the
instructors sense the course is having a positive effect on their students'
intellectual curiosity, their confidence in their assessment of intellectual
curiosity would be greater if it were more quantitative in nature.
The course is also having an interesting effect on the instructors of
EngrllOz in several ways. First, the instructors are gradually gaining
confidence in student-centered approaches to learning. The interviews
reveal that prior to their experience in the EngrllOz course, instructors
had conceived of themselves as traditional Academy instructorssubject
matter experts who present information in lectures and test students on
the lecture content. Gradually, they are changing this conceptualization.
For example, a second semester course director, who also co-teaches
one of the segments of the course, has reported the increased use of the
Socratic method (Interview, 12,1/24/96). This instructor reports asking
more open-ended questions and providing open-ended activities as the
Socratic method demands. Another instructor reported that, when cadets
come for extra instruction, he does not provide direct answers to cadets'
questions about factual information (Interview, 1/23/96). Rather, the
instructor uses the opportunity to force the cadets to continue to think
about the subject and to devise their own means of resolving the problem.
However, in the observation of the teaching of the instructors, I
noticed an apparent discrepancy in what is espoused and what in fact
occurs. For example, one instructor was observed asking many questions,
as the Socratic method demands. The questions being asked, however,
were not open-ended. That is, the questions typically had single correct
answers. Further, the responses given to students' answers were typically
closed such as "Right," "No!," or "Close but not quite...!" These types of
responses are not "Socratic" in style. Socratic teaching and questioning is
intended to lead students' thinking through a process of continually
asking more and more questions. From this example, it can be seen that
unless instructional methods to arouse intellectual curiosity are clearly
understood and executed, they may not produce the desired outcome.
A second effect of the course is a recognition on the part of the
instructors that a shift in focus from teacher-directed to student-centered
learning need not be at the expense of content. Much to the surprise of the
EngrllOz instructors, students EngrllOz scores on midterm and final
exams compared favorably to those of another introductory engineering
course, EngrMechl20. This fact has elevated the instructors' confidence in
and enthusiasm for the course.
Based on this research, there are two recommendations regarding
the integration of the intellectual curiosity outcome into the course design
of EngrllOz. First, the Academy should become familiar with the
theoretical foundations regarding intellectual curiosity. A review of the
literature would facilitate the development of a working definition of the
construct. A literature review would also identify instructional strategies
that have been shown to arouse and sustain intellectual curiosity and that
could be used by the Academy. Further, an understanding of the theory
on intellectual curiosity would facilitate the identification of potential
indicators of the construct and provide potential means of its
Second, the Academy should provide instructional staff with
opportunities to collectively discuss and evaluate course design in terms
of the intellectual curiosity outcome. These meetings could include