Question Collection I

Recently both the New York Times and the Washington Post have published articles sharing great college admissions questions.  Of particular note are the questions from the University of Chicago, which solicits ideas from students, and then uses the best in their applications.  Here are two of my favorites:

“This is what history consists of. It’s the sum total of all the things they aren’t telling us.” — Don DeLillo, Libra. What is history, who are “they,” and what aren’t they telling us? (Inspired by Amy Estersohn, Class of 2010)

The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp:

What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?

(Inspired by Tess Moran, Class of 2016)

mantis shrimp

Apparently mantis shrimp not only has receptors for 16 types of colors, but is also particularly vicious.

In an earlier post on this blog, I claimed that good questions (in both the museum context and in many educational contexts) are (1) relevant; (2) informed; (3) genuine; and (4) appropriate.  Do these questions hit all four?  

  • Relevance is a funny word in this context, but I would argue that these questions are relevant in that they offer the applicant an opportunity to share his or her individual ideas in intriguing ways. Their relevance is in their quirkiness and openness.  
  • They are informed in that they are rooted in existing information.  The second question could be phrased differently: “Imagine a creature could see four times as many colors as we could.  What would they see that we could not?”  But it doesn’t: it starts with the shrimp, and even provides a link to learn more.  
  • These questions are genuine – or at least, I perceive them as genuine: I really want to know how applicants answered these questions.  
  • And they are appropriate: They are not too simplistic, or too challenging, or too flat, for an 18 year old who wants to attend a highly intellectual school such as the University of Chicago.

Additionally, these questions are intriguing. They lead one (or at least, me) to want to learn more about DeLillo’s Libra and the mantis shrimp.  They make me think about big philosophical ideas about history and perception, and even in the connections between these ideas and the sources: I find myself trying to remember Libra, which I read decades ago, and to consider it with the quote in mind.

I am on a search for good models for questions that can inspire us as museum professionals.  College applications are one source.  If you know of others, please share!

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