Friday, September 25, 2009

Ask Questions

"The important thing is to never stop questioning."- Albert Einstein. Eric Vogt adds that questions are a prerequisite to learning, a window into creativity and insight. They motivate fresh thinking, challenge outdated assumptions, and lead us to the future. In the virtual classroom, students need to be given the chance to answer provocative questions and to ask them of one another and the instructor. 

In your online classroom, begin with a simple exercise on the whiteboard. Using the text tool, write any topic related to your course or workshop: "syntax," "percent," "graduation requirements," "neurosis," "troubleshooting," or "beauty." Invite students to use the audio tool or the chat area to pose open-ended questions about the topic: "What is beauty?" "Are there different kinds of beauty?" You can call on students randomly or in order (e.g., by name from the roster), and explain that this will continue until someone cannot posit a new question. You should be able to generate a very long list with even just a few students, if they're interested and paying attention.

Now focus the learners on what role questions have in their learning process. Why is it important for them to ask questions? Did any of the questions asked during this exercise make you pause and reconsider your concept of the topic? Do you feel comfortable asking questions in this class and venue?

To ensure active learning, select one of the questions and have each student speak (or chat) for one minute (using the timer) on the subject. You can do this at any time during your online lectures or workshops to make sure that your students are involved in their own learning by asking questions and looking for answers.

At the Centre for Leadership in Learning at McMaster University, a good question has these properties:
  1. Most importantly...something you are interested in.

  2. The question is open to research.
  1. You don't already know the answer, or have not already decided on the answer before doing the research.
  1. The question may have multiple possible answers when initially asked.
  1. It has a clear focus.
  1. The question should be reasonable.
  1. Try to avoid or rephrase questions which have a premise.
  1. Make sure you have defined all the terms in your question so you know exactly what you are asking.
  1. A new question can be asked once all your information is gathered.
  1. Having the right answer matters to you.
 Follow the above link to discover Paul Bidwell's ingenius "Quescussions" activity, which forces students to ask questions as a means of discovery. You may also want to look here for more suggestions for asking good questions in class.

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