What Makes a Topic Interesting? A Conceptual and Methodological Exploration of the Underlying Dimensions of Topic Interest

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Su Swarat


Interest has long been recognized as an important motivator of learning. Recent research,
however, has reported a trend of declining interest in science among young students,
which suggested that school science has not been effectively fostering student interest. In
order to help students develop an enduring interest in the topics taught at school, the first,
and perhaps the fundamental step is to understand what it is about a topic that makes it
interesting (or uninteresting). As a preliminary effort to address this question, a mixedmethod
study combining quantitative data from paired-comparison preference judgments
and qualitative data from semi-structured interviews was undertaken with the goal of
determining the underlying topic attributes that influence middle school students’
perceived interestingness of school-related topics. The results suggest a set of possible
attribute dimensions – a topic’s activeness, importance, familiarity, coolness, and
challengingness. Implications of the findings in the context of related research and future
research directions are discussed.

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Author Biography

Su Swarat

Northwestern University