Asking Questions

What is the discipline that studies the asking of questions?

I mention the following occasionally in my work presentations:

“A large majority of recent graduates from top U.S. universities and colleges reported that they felt that college failed to prepare them to ask questions of their own.”

Principled Uncertainty: Why Learning to Ask Good Questions Matters More than Finding Answers” by Barbara Fister (Fister is a librarian notable enough to have her own Wikipedia entry).

Fister’s essay came out only a few days ago, but I read the research to which she’s referring in 2016.

It occurred to me this morning because I was considering writing a longer essay (series of blog posts?) on question asking.

Perhaps instead of teaching children for twelve years to answer questions, we should be teaching them how to ask better questions.

If you want to know what I do with my days during February (and September) the section “No Question About It” (in the Principled Uncertainty article) captures it perfectly.

“College instructors are likely to say they assign inquiry to encourage creativity and original thought. In practice many research assignments are designed primarily to expose students to preexisting scholarship and to promote familiarity with library resources and academic writing conventions.”

I’m the librarian that explains library resources.

The whole essay is well worth reading.

That said, it never really gets into the question of how do we ask better questions. How do we teach students to ask better questions? How do we teach ourselves to ask better questions? If I were going to put together a syllabus on asking better questions, what would be on that syllabus?

If you like this Fister article, you might also want to read her “Lizard People in the Library” from last year.

In this same vein, a few years ago danah boyd gave a talk reflecting on how information/media literacy’s mantra of “do your own research” helped feed today’s abundant crop of conspiracy.

“It’s one thing to talk about interrogating assumptions when a person can keep emotional distance from the object of study. It’s an entirely different thing to talk about these issues when the very act of asking questions is what’s being weaponized. This isn’t historical propaganda distributed through mass media. Or an exercise in understanding state power. This is about making sense of an information landscape where the very tools that people use to make sense of the world around them have been strategically perverted by other people who believe themselves to be resisting the same powerful actors that we normally seek to critique.”

danah boyd

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 022 of 100)

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