What is a good question?
Our new blog post series explores a topic that we’re always wondering about: what is a good question? In the first part, we shared insights about relevance as an essential criterion for a question’s quality. But, what else is needed for a quality question? Let’s keep exploring questioning.
Who else will be joining us? We’re proud to have Dr. Harry Stokhof with us as a commenter, who is a senior researcher and teacher educator at the HAN University of Applied Sciences (Department of Education) in The Netherlands and specializes in learners’ questions.
What do all questions have?
What do all questions have? If you’re thinking of “an answer,” try again: not all questions can produce an answer – at least, not unconditionally. What we’re looking for is room for research; the potential to approach a question in different ways until we get a satisfying answer. If you feel comfortable with a Topic, you can almost immediately tell if a question has a straightforward answer or if it requires extensive research. This is what distinguishes a closed question from an open question.
Let’s assume that our Topic was Distance Education. If you were in need of a small piece of information, you would ask a closed question such as “Do I need an internet connection to participate in an e-class?” But, if you asked, “How are students that don’t have the required tools for distance education impacted?” your question would be wide open, thus more demanding.
“How feasible is this question?”
In any case, we all already “weigh” what a question wants from us – whether we are the ones who are asking it or the ones who are expected to answer it. In other words, we consider how feasible it is. A question’s feasibility can be broken down into four levels that reflect what effort it would take to find an answer:
|Description||not likely to be answered through a research activity within the given time, resources or capacities||can be answered through simple keyword internet/textbook search or execution of a simple procedure/observation||can be answered through multiple keywords search and retrieved information analysis/synthesis or advanced research method||can be answered only by an expert in the domain who has relevant knowledge|
|When will we not have to work at all as humans?||What is the percentage of companies that are now working remotely due to the pandemic?||If an employee is perfectly happy working from home, how can a company make working at the office attractive again?||What can a CEO do to ensure that professional relationships among employees remain healthy while working remotely?|
|When will I be able to perform nuclear fusion experiments in my home?||What is the definition of “nuclear fusion”?||What are people’s misconceptions about ongoing nuclear fusion experiments?||How can the challenges in developing a nuclear fusion reactor be overcome?|
Whenever we deal with a Topic that is new to us, not feasible questions and questions that require simple desk/practical research are to be expected. As soon as we get a grasp on the most basic research points, we’re ready to ask questions that require compound desk/practical research or expert consultation.
HARRY’S TIP 💡
Often, small changes in formulation could change the feasibility of a question.
PEPY’S TIP 💡
For several Topics (e.g., philosophy, artificial intelligence), there is just a thin line between formulating not feasible questions and questions that need expert consulting to get an answer. If our knowledge on the given Topic is limited or out of date, we may misjudge a question demanding expertise as a not feasible one. Especially within learning communities, allow plenty of room for further exploration before putting the “not feasible” label on a question.
In the third post of our Question Qualities series, we’ll explore the role of learning potential for formulating a good question. In the meantime, try testing different combinations of the relevance-feasibility spectrums in your questions!
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Stokhof, H. (2018). How to guide effective student questioning? Design and evaluation of a principle-based scenario for teacher guidance (Open Universiteit).
Stokhof, H., de Vries, B., Bastiaens, T., & Martens, R. (2019). Mind Map Our Way into Effective Student Questioning: a Principle-Based Scenario. Research in Science Education, 49(2), 347–369.
Stokhof, H., Meli, K., & Lavidas, K. (2020). To answer or not to answer, that is the question: experts’ contribution to question-answering platforms. In L. Gómez Chova, A. Martínez López, & I. Candel Torres (Eds.), 13th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (pp. 2048–2056). Sevilla: IATED Academy.
Stokhof, H., Meli, K., & Lavidas, K. (August, 2021). Exploring factors for experts’ response rate on an educational Community Question-Answering platform. Oral presentation at EARLI 2021 “Education and Citizenship: Learning and Instruction and the Shaping of Futures.” Gothenburg.