Be Curious: Research Instruction for First Year Studio Students

Recently I was asked to provide research instruction for a brand new 1 credit course required for all new incoming BFA and BArch students at Tyler School of Art. This course was designed to create a community of learning and introduce students to the world of art and design. I had 35 minutes and was asked to talk about image research and demonstrate only two databases. The professors requested specifically the free database of and our in-house image database of objects in our special collections. I was one of several “guest speakers” invited to talk to the students. The instruction room was packed with about 150 students.

I rarely teach with Powerpoint, but wanted to have visual material that represented my ideas and that engaged the students during my introductory talk. I took cue from my yoga class to spend some time at the beginning of the class giving a type of “pep talk” about what it was we, as a class, were about to embark on.

While I was composing my session, it occurred to me that when I’m teaching students about research, I’m really teaching them about curiosity – what it means to be curious, why they should be curious and how to act on their curiosity. I started my talk with the students by addressing that same concept. [I’ve illustrated this post with various slides from the presentation. You can watch and download the entire presentation at the end of this post.]

Slides 2 – 5: Illustrating Curiosity


In an effort to illustrate what I meant by curiosity, and to start them thinking about visual representations of concepts, I showed images of different ways to represent curiosity. As I clicked through the “Be Curious.” slides, I talked about the different ways to define what it means to be curious and the different ways in which you can illustrate those definitions.

Slide 7: Why be Curious

Slid 7 is animated and the images appear one at a time starting from the bottom right with Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope poster and working to the left, then up to the book cover of Graphic Design, moving right to Art in the Streets, then Art of Obama and ending with the headlines about the copyright case of Shepard Fairey’s Hope poster. During this slide I spoke about reasons why you would want to be curious. I used this slide to illustrate how curiosity can help you contextualize objects and give them depth. With curiosity you can discover the history of objects, learn about their influences and possibly find relationships between them and your own work.

For this slide I needed to start with an image I knew the students would recognize. The starting image also needed to be something I knew I could connect in an obvious way to other images. I was not going to talk about the images, so the connections had to speak for themselves. The bottom row are objects that demonstrate a sort of history of image making and the top row are resources about the objects.

Slid 8: Utilize Resources

From this slide I link to the image databases found in an art research guide I created. I demonstrated the free online image database, and our Head of Special Collections demonstrated searching images in our in-house image database. I used this opportunity to briefly talk about utilizing all resources available to them, whether they be Google or lectures, or professors or peers or the library. Different resources will connect you to different pieces of information.

Slide 9: Practice. Practice. Practice.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice drives our curiosity. The more we use something and the more we practice with it, the more we understand what it can do for us, and the more we understand how we can make it work for us. There is no level of perfection in information seeking, only levels of improvement.

Little did I know that the next reading assignment scheduled for the class was and essay entitled “Curiosity Cabinets, Museums, and Universities” by E. Bruce Robertson from the book, Cabinet of Curiosities: Mark Dion and the University as Installation. Two weeks after this session I spoke with the students more about developing a vocabulary for researching.

I’m curious to know about what you do to teach students about research.


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