I recently watched a video of Daniel Pink discussing his book, Drive, with a group at my school to discuss its implications for education, which, of course, led me to think about its implications for student research. As Pink explains, studies indicate that extrinsic rewards only work if the task is above “rudimentary cognitive skills” — “for simple, straightforward tasks…tasks that are algorithmic, a set of rules where you have to just follow along and get a right answer.” We all know that true research or inquiry is the polar opposite of this type of task. No matter how many processes we create to explain the process of inquiry (Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process , Eisenberg and Berkowitz’s Big6, Stripling’s Model of Inquiry and many more) even those frameworks acknowledge that it is not a linear process; it’s messy and murky and a perfect example of the type of task that Pink describes as “require[ing} conceptual, creative thinking.” Yet, even with the incredible opportunity that an inquiry project provides; I still hear students say that they’ve done this before “tons of times.” They describe it as a hurdle…something they have to get through for the class. These descriptions definitely don’t scream intrinsic motivation, but I believe we can change that.
Firstly, there might be some issue with the tasks we assign and how we label them. When I was still teaching English, I realized that I was using the term research for both smaller reporting projects and an extended inquiry project when they are quite different tasks and involve far different skills. As Carol Gordon explains,
The research assignment acts as a reporting exercise when student involvement is limited to information gathering, which is usually demonstrated by reading, taking notes, and writing a summary. Reporting has masqueraded as researching for so long that the terms are used interchangeably.
For example, when students were doing brief reports on historical aspects of a novel to help their understanding before reading it, I called that research. When I was expecting them to do in-depth inquiry that required skills such as the development of their own topic and questions, the synthesizing of multiple sources, and the creation of an original argument, I still called it research. Though this might seem like a small distinction, it shouldn’t surprise me that students began working on the in-depth research project in the same way as the report – building lists of facts from a source and moving on. They didn’t realize that the in-depth research project required skills extending far beyond those of reporting until we did some explicit lessons and scaffolding assignments geared toward breaking out of “reporting mode.” However, this is just one thing we can learn from Drive; next time, we’ll look closely at the factors Pink describes as leading “to the better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction” and how those can relate to research.
Gordon, Carol. “Students As Authentic Researchers: A New Prescription for the High School Research Assignment.” American Association of School Librarians. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Pink, Daniel. “RSA Animate – Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.” RSA Animate. N.p., 8 Apr. 2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
Cross-posted on the Library Think Tank