A Second Look At Questioning In The eLearning Environment

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popular-educational-twitter-hashtagsby Rosa Fattahi, WizIQ

As discussed in A Primer in Effective Questioning, Part I, it is important that traditional and eLearning teachers employ a variety of question types that address a range of intellectual skills.

Questions should not only be used to assess student comprehension of the material, but also to help students extend their thinking and creativity skills by connecting ideas to each other and applying concepts to the real world. For teachers, this means first having a clear understanding of the hierarchy of lower order to higher order intellectual skills, and then using questioning techniques in the classroom that address the full range of cognitive abilities.

For more on the importance of varying question types for the most effective student questioning, see Part I.

Best Teacher Questioning Practices

In addition to asking a variety of question types that address a range of cognitive skills, teachers should employ specific questioning behaviors and practices in the classroom to increase instructional effectiveness and improve student learning.

1. Do not ask too many questions; instead, develop a planned strategy for questioning.

Rather than just asking a wealth of questions, plan ahead and craft a plan for questions to be used during a particular class. Include a variety of question types and prompts that address a range of cognitive abilities, and develop a questioning strategy or pattern that works best to reinforce the course material while also encouraging independent student thinking and learning.

2. Ask clear, focused, and meaningful questions that are personalized for the material and students.

Questioning is only useful as a pedagogical tool if the students understand what they are being asked. So, phrasing is very important, and teachers must at times adapt and reword questions to meet the level of the specific student or group of students being asked. Ideally, it also reflects a students’ assessment performance, history, or even personal interests.

3. Be sure to wait after asking a question to give students time to think and then answer.

As a teacher, the silence that often ensues in the classroom after asking a question can be worrisome, and so many teachers wait only a fraction of a second before moving on. However, students need time to consider the question and formulate a response before they can answer, so it is important that teachers allow a reasonable amount of “wait time” before expecting students to respond.

The most effective questioners allow a standard wait time of at least three to six seconds; notably, lower order cognitive questions require less wait time than higher order questions. Good teachers will also pause for several seconds after student responses, in order to give the rest of the class time to consider the answer and its validity before continuing.

4. Give appropriate feedback, ask probing follow-up questions, and validate correct responses.

Besides the prompts themselves, the feedback teachers give to student responses is a crucial element in effective questioning. For example, when a student answers incorrectly, the teacher should provide feedback that helps redirect the student to the correct response, or helps the student see their own thinking. Reflection and meta-cognition are powerful actuators of learning.

Similarly, when a student’s response is correct, the teacher should still ask follow-up questions that probe for additional explanation or clarification, thus engaging the student further, promoting higher-order thought, and encouraging independent, creative thinking.

Finally, it is important that teacher feedback includes validating correct responses with commendations and praise that work to empower students.

5. Encourage participation and input from all students, and allow students to ask questions.

Teachers should use questions that will stimulate students’ minds and encourage participation from all students, and both volunteering and non-volunteering students should be involved, which may require the teacher to “set them up for success” by offering sentence stems that provide a natural scaffold for the students. In addition, students must be allowed, if not required, to ask their own questions to the teacher as well as other students.

Furthermore, when a student asks the teacher a question, it is a good strategy for the teacher to first redirect the question to the class and seek a peer response before providing the answer themselves, thus encouraging collaborative thinking and peer learning.

Applying Effective Questioning Practices in the Online Classroom

With regard to questioning practices, the technological medium of the online classroom presents some unique challenges that often lead online teachers to use less questioning, if it is not omitted altogether.

However, the value of questioning in the learning process cannot be understated, as research suggests that instruction with questioning is more effective than instruction without questioning. So, if the online teacher wants to employ advanced questioning techniques and strategies, how is he or she to do so within the seeming confines of a virtual setting?

First, all of the suggestions listed above for classroom teachers also hold true for online teachers, though some of them—such as wait time considerations—depend on whether or not the course includes a live class component. In addition, there are many specific questioning practices that work particularly well in eLearning environments, as well as some useful online tools for facilitating such practices. Notably, online educational platforms that enable some live student-teacher interaction through audio and video communication, such as that offered by WizIQ, are best for facilitating effective questioning practices.

A good way to think about questioning online students is in terms of time; that is, online teachers should ask questions before, during, and after a topic of study—1) introducing the topic before covering it, 2) elucidating the material during the unit, and 3) reinforcing student learning after class. The Virtual Classroom of WizIQ’s online educational platform, for example, has many specific features and tools that can be used to employ the most effective questioning techniques in an eLearning setting.

utclibrary1.  “Before” Questioning: Introducing the Topic

Before a class session or an online unit, eTeachers should ask students questions about the topic to introduce the material and determine what students already know:

  • Prior to having students read or watch videos on a subject, or before a live online class session with an educational platform such as that offered by WizIQ, teachers can post questions to the class discussion board in order to get students thinking about the topic and their current understanding of it. Or, with a tool like WizIQ’s one-on-one or group text chatting system, teachers can send questions directly to students before class. Teachers can then use the student responses to tailor their instructional plan as needed to ensure that presumptions, misconceptions, or other views related to the matter are aptly addressed during the unit.

  • At the start of a new “live” online class session, e-teachers can pose queries to the students using a tool like WizIQ’s full-screen, interactive whiteboard to write questions on a virtual board, to which students can immediately respond via WizIQ’s live audio and video communication function. Also, with the Screen Sharing and Video Sharing feature from WizIQ, online teachers can easily introduce a topic and present preliminary questions to the students by sharing a PowerPoint presentation, PDF, Word document, or other multimedia files with them.

2.  “During” Questioning: Elucidating the Material

While lecturing or presenting a unit online, it is a good idea for teachers to ask questions frequently to ensure comprehension and prompt discussion:

  • It is important to ask students questions during class or while covering a topic, in order to determine student comprehension and address confusion; but, without the right learning platform, this can be difficult for teachers in a virtual setting. If the online course enables “live” class sessions through audiovisual communication, however, teachers can ask students questions during class using a valuable tool like WizIQ’s polling feature, which allows teachers to create questions and receive quick feedback in a chart or graph form, reinforcing the material, prompting further discussion, and aiding the teacher in knowing what to cover next.

  • In a traditional classroom setting, teachers may break students into groups and have them each tackle a particular question or problem to help clarify the material. WizIQ’s Breakout Sessions feature makes such group work possible in the online classroom, allowing teachers and students to engage in a live chat, or “breakout session,” in which the teacher can pose questions related to class topics and receive student responses immediately.

3.  “After” Questioning: Reinforcing Student Learning

Following a particular lecture or unit of study, there are some specific online questioning practices that work to reinforce student learning and assess comprehension:

  • Have students create discussion questions about the topic after each class as a homework assignment, and then post these to the message board or use them to begin the next class session. WizIQ also offers a Recordings feature that makes this easy for online students; students can watch live recordings of classes, including all audio and video input, and then craft their own questions to help them better understand the material.

  • After a unit or class session, teachers can offer individual or group sessions to address questions, present further instruction, or provide homework assistance. The video and audio chatting tools offered with an online educational platform like WizIQ are particularly useful for questioning students that have specific queries or require additional discussion to clarify the material. In addition, a feature like WizIQ’s easy and effective texting function enables teachers to text and chat with students one-on-one as well as in group chats, providing yet another tool for the online teacher’s questioning tool kit; following class, WizIQ teachers can send a mass text to students with a question to consider for the next class, allowing teachers to question students with a medium that is familiar and comfortable for modern-day students.

While the most effective student questioning should work to address various types of cognitive thought and invoke the full range of intellectual skills as discussed in A Primer in Effective Questioning, Part I, these pedagogical practices must also be accompanied by specific questioning behaviors to best encourage individual, creative student thinking and promote collaborative learning, both in the traditional classroom and in the online, e-learning setting.

Moreover, online courses facilitated by a learning management system that enables live audio and video communication and simulates face-to-face learning, such as WizIQ’s online teaching software, are most effective, as they allow for more interactive questioning practices and a more engaging learning environment overall.

Image attribution flickr user utclibrary

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