Last Spring, I had an interesting experience with a part-time faculty member and a student in an online class. The student found her way to my office to ask for technical help with her class. The instructor had told the learners they had until Sunday to post to the discussion board in the learning management system, and to respond to peers. Yet the students could not find a link to access that discussion board. I noticed that the discussion for that week was not available because of date restrictions, and emailed the instructor to let him know this. He quickly responded that the student was at fault for contacting me (my role is instructional design/educational technology support for students and faculty). I told him that my role with the college is to ensure that our faculty AND our students have positive experiences with the technology we use, and with his permission, I reset the dates so students could access this tool. I also sent instructions (step-by-step instructions, and a short video) to the faculty member on how he could update these settings himself.
The same student came back the following week, with the same issue. When I contacted the instructor again, his response was, “I assume that the student you’re talking about is [StudentName]. She has been a pain in my butt all semester with all her questions.” Wow.
I really think that an important part of the learning process includes student questions. In the online environment, students ask questions via email, discussion forums, and other digital methods. Instructors in the digital environment need to embrace all questions they receive because in this case, there was a technological fail that prevented student success… but other questions can be used as formative assessment, and as a way for students to have choice, ownership, and voice in the learning process.
Children ask so many questions when they are young, yet as they grow, those questions stop. Why? Years ago, I had a project involving middle school girls and their levels of interest in science, math, and technology. With that population, we learned that girls stop asking questions and showing interest because they do not want to appear smarter than the boys. More recent research attributes the loss of interest to peer pressure and lack of role models. (Why Do Girls Lose Interest in STEM?)
But other reasons exist too. According to the article “Top 10 Reasons Students Don’t Ask Questions,” one of the main reasons that students stop asking questions is that they are afraid of looking ‘uncool.’ But more importantly, they fear that they are wasting time… time of their classmates, AND of their teachers. Other issues identified in the article include that students do not know how to formulate questions, but also that they may not think of them in the time frame when the discussion is occurring.
Students need time to reflect. Students need to learn how to formulate questions. And students need to be encouraged to ask questions… about everything.
In the situation I mentioned, the instructor felt the student’s questions were an annoyance, even though a problem with the technology clearly prevented all the students from being able to be successful. But the instructor was very quick to tell me how annoying a student’s questions were… even though clearly a problem existed.
I love this TedTalk video about children and questions.
Let’s encourage learners to ask those substantive questions… let’s help our learners develop the ability to ask questions in the right way… let’s help them be comfortable in asking questions.
Gregersen, H. How To Ask The Right Question. (2013). TedxYouth@IFTA. Retrieved 4-August-2018 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APVaTRNQmJc
Macrovector/Freepik. (n.d.) Question Mark Made of Mobile Travel Application Icons [Photograph]. Retrieved 5-August-2018 from https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/question-mark-made-of-mobile-application-travel-icons-concept-vector-illustration_1158238.htm
Top 10 Reasons Students Don’t Ask Questions. Retrieved 4-August-2018 from https://letsrecap.com/2017/05/15/ten-reasons-students-dont-asking-questions/
Why Do Girls Lose Interest In STEM: New Research has some answers. (2018). Retrieved 4-August-2018 from https://news.microsoft.com/features/why-do-girls-lose-interest-in-stem-new-research-has-some-answers-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/