What is a good question?
In the first and second parts, we discussed the relevance and feasibility as standards for a question’s quality, respectively. However, are these two criteria adequate in order to formulate a good question? We have one additional suggestion to complete the question quality triplet.
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 “a need to know something,” try again: not all questions are asked with a goal to learn. What we’re looking for is motivation; in other words, a reason that urges us to generate and/or formulate questions. This is usually connected to our typical learning needs. However, questioning is often part of our social interactions, so it’s also influenced by incentives that go beyond knowledge acquisition. Thus, questions can either facilitate our learning, or they can serve our social needs, and in some cases, they can do both.
While discussing, let’s say, Distance Education, you could ask “Are online examinations equally transparent as the ones that take place in person?” For social purposes though, such as showing interest to an instructor, you might choose to transform the same question like this: “How difficult is it for you to maintain transparency during online examinations?” The two questions don’t yield the exact same information, but you can decide whether you need explicit information or to communicate your empathy, too.
“What is the learning potential of this question?”
You may have found yourself present in some awkward situations where a question doesn’t seek knowledge at all and is merely asked for social reasons. However, more often than not, questions actually have learning potential, and it can be amazingly progressive. A question’s learning potential can be broken down into four levels, depending on the depth the question aspires to go to:
|NO LEARNING POTENTIAL||CONFIRMATORY||EXPLORATIVE||TRANSFORMATIVE|
|Description||seeks an answer that the asker already knows or does not really want to know||reveals the asker’s need to acquire a basic understanding of the Topic, check presumptions, and/or develop frameworks and vocabulary||reveals the asker’s need to extend basic understanding of the Topic and relate new information with an existing framework||reveals asker’s need to test or deepen knowledge about the Topic and to refine, stretch, and possibly rearrange their conceptual framework|
|If working remotely, does the employee have to be at their office?||Can an employee work efficiently from home?||What additional metrics/indicators can be applied to ensure efficiency while working from home?||How should real estate businesses transform their plan in order to increase their profits, while many companies limit their physical working spaces?|
|Is nuclear fusion something that takes place at a nuclei scale?||What is the definition of “nuclear fusion”?||What is the difference between “nuclear fusion” and “nuclear fission”?||Why should nuclear fusion be more beneficial as an energy resource than nuclear fission?|
When we intend to fill our knowledge gaps on a new Topic, we ask confirmatory questions, but, as soon as we build a firm knowledge base, we take shots with explorative and transformative questions to address our cognitive conflicts and seek deeper understanding.
HARRY’S TIP 💡
Questions are not static entities but rather fluid dynamic thinking tools that need time to develop.
PEPY’S TIP 💡
It’s tricky to estimate the level of questions’ learning potential just looking at its formulation. Learning potential depends on the context, the community members’ relations, and the timing. Within learning communities, it’s possible for the instructor (and the teammates) to identify which questions are expressed without actual learning expectations. We may find these questions disruptive, even annoying. Don’t be too fast in dismissing questions of disputable learning potential; putting your efforts to find the hidden learning potential is likely to pay off.
In the fourth and final post of our Question Qualities series, we’ll present a unifying approach for the “good question” criteria of relevance, feasibility, and learning potential. Until then, try mixing and matching different levels of each criterion 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.