This content was published: December 4, 2017. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
An easy way to get students to ask questions
Posted by Jennifer Ward
My best idea as of late
I’ve taught online classes for over 10 years and I’m still coming up with new ideas to help students. I don’t like to introduce new structure to the class once things have started rolling, but this seemed like a worthwhile idea and I wanted to implement it: I created a new discussion topic for my statistics students titled Ask your “dumb” questions here.
This is the description I gave to the discussion topic:
Your instructor says there are no dumb questions! You are learning, so how can you be expected to know it all? Students may disagree (because they can be hard on themselves). Use this topic to post your “dumb questions”, or even ask questions that you think you know the answer to, but want that extra confirmation.
Why? Your instructor wants you to get your questions answered, but she fears questions go unanswered because students think the questions is a “dumb question”.
Please be sure to post anonymously. (There is a little box to check.)
Why all the questions now?
Sure, anonymous posting had been enabled on all discussions topics in the past, but I like to think that it’s the title of the discussion topic that emphasizes that all questions are ok to ask. Or, maybe it’s the red highlighted text in the description that is doing the trick. Whatever the reason, it worked!
Now, part of me feels this discussion topic’s title is a little controversial. You’ll note that the word “dumb” is in quotes to show that the word could have a different meaning. I don’t feel there are dumb questions, yet occasionally students still apologize for asking me questions.
Once the discussion topic went live the questions started rolling in! I’ve never had so many questions asked in a class before and I’m really excited about this. As an online teacher, it can be hard to know if students are struggling if they don’t tell you. I feel that my students are in a better place because they are getting these “little questions” answered so they are confident to complete what is asked of them. Personally, I think that building up the confidence of a student is almost as important as teaching them the material. Almost. :)
Ideas for you
Here’s how to implement this type of discussion in your class:
- Create a discussion topic title that you’re comfortable with, and puts out the “right” message for your students.
- Give the discussion topic a description that emphasizes that all questions are welcome. (The 8-week Summer Tune-Up mentioned adding descriptions to all your content, too.)
- Explicitly state that students should check the box to post their question anonymously. Of course, non-anonymous (say that 5 times fast!) questions are welcome!
- Make sure to check the box “Allow anonymous posts” in the Options of your discussion topic.
- Subscribe to the discussion topic so you can answer the students’ questions quickly.
- Make an announcement about the discussion topic near the end in the first week of class. Link to the topic in your announcement. Try not to tell students about the topic on Day 1 since they are already overwhelmed with information.
- Link to the discussion topic on your Course Home, for easy access.
Ideas to share?
Do you have an idea that has worked to get students to ask questions in your class? If so, share it in the comments below.