Curiosity and questioning go hand-in-hand. And both are habits that can be actively nurtured and refined.
The Right Question Institute’s Andrew P. Mingan was a guest on the show in May. His conversation with host Lynn Borton touched on the importance of asking questions for learning, research, navigating public institutions, democratic participation, and building a more equitable society.
Minigan also spoke about initial findings from research he’s conducting with support from the National Science Foundation. The study suggests even the highest-level researchers — doctoral students and faculty — can deliberately sharpen their questioning skills to develop more transformative research questions.
“It’s a skill that requires real practice and rigor in developing,” Minigan said of the ability to craft and ask good questions.
You can listen to the episode at the “Choose to be Curious” website.
‘Questioning as empowerment’
The radio show is dedicated “thinking and talking about curiosity” and promotes the idea that “like a muscle, curiosity is something you can strengthen.”
Building your question-asking skills is one way to strengthen curiosity muscles.
In discussing the Question Formulation Technique, a step-by-step process for formulating, prioritizing, and using questions, Borton said, “Each of these steps is a little bit of genius in and of itself.” And each one “has its own secret sauce to it.”
For instance, “capturing all the questions without judgment is actually pretty revolutionary because we judge ourselves on our questions all the time,” Borton said.
Formulating questions with other people is another powerful method, she observed. Different people “pursue avenues that I might never have seen, and suddenly lights go off in rooms that I didn’t even know were there.” Formulating questions in a group is “a really effective way of validating a lot of different perspectives right at the onset,” she said.
Borton spoke about “questioning as empowerment” and how learning to ask better questions “is really about systemic engagement in basically any venue.”
“We would appreciate how equitable our society would be. How much more democratic our society would be. How much more engaged individuals would be in many different facets of our democratic institutions.” — Andrew P. Minigan on a world filled with questions.
She asked Minigan what the world would look like “if we woke up tomorrow morning and everybody had internalized this kind of approach to question asking.”
“We would appreciate how equitable our society would be. How much more democratic our society would be. How much more engaged individuals would be in many different facets of our democratic institutions,” Minigan said. “Not just in voting every two or four years, or every year, but just in all the democratic institutions in the community and the schools and the welfare office, and that people would really feel more agency in their lives as a result.”
Questioning in higher education
Minigan also spoke about developing questioning skills in higher education.
“Too often we get a little bit comfortable in a sort of one-degree pivot,” he said of graduate and post-graduate level research. “You identify a very narrow gap in the literature, you devise a really clever research design to address that gap, and you plug along on your research program.”
Our goal is “high impact, highly relevant research questions that are really going to advance the research in more new and exciting ways.” — Andrew P. Minigan
“What we’re working toward is developing resources that doctoral students and faculty can use to think more divergently when they’re coming up with research questions, to tackle it from a more creative lens and think in many different directions” he said. This process helps researchers prioritize and improve questions to develop “high impact, highly relevant research questions that are really going to advance the research in more new and exciting ways.”
The traditional way of thinking is that “if you’re a curious person, you’re going to ask a heck of a lot of questions,” Minigan said. But recent work from other researchers points in the opposite direction: “If you begin to learn how to ask questions and do this as part of your learning process, you’re going to become a more curious thinker and learner as a result.”
The episode has also been streaming on Science360 Radio.