Developing Effective Discussion Questions

Decorative: Many overlapping question marks in different sizes and colours


"Developing Effective Questions for Online Discussions" (post) "describes the characteristics and types of topics that encourage learning and interaction":

  • "[E]ffective questions are generally open-ended and exploratory."
  • "Effective questions require students to inquire within themselves about what they currently believe and know."
  • "Effective questions encourage students to apply new content to personal scenarios."

BUilding on constructivist learning principles, the post links effective questions with course goals and student frameworks and outlines three basic "types of questions that are best for discussion forums":

1. Factual Questions

"[Q]uestions for which there is a known and verifiable answer ... often straightforward questions that are the foundations of more complex concepts"

  • "[I]ncludes short-answer essay questions, such as the pros and cons of different leadership types ...  basic principles, guidelines and accepted practices"
  • "For these types of questions, students can also be asked to identify or find ideas from relevant topic resources."

2. Though Socratic Questions

"[E]ncourage students to 'go within' themselves and clarify what they know and then to provide the assumptions behind their reasoning and even the data behind those assumptions"

  • "What is your main point? And how is it related to...?"
  • "What do you think is the main issue here?"
  • "How does this relate to our discussion/problem/issue?"
  • "What do you think [another student] meant by his remark?"
  • "What did you take [that student's remark] to mean?"
  • "[W]ould you summarize in your own words what [another student] has said? [To the other student,] is that what you meant?"
  • "Could you give me an example?"

3. Problem-Solving Questions

"[G]enerally good for the following situations":

  • "[S]erious thinking about complex issues"
  • "[C]ustomizing learning and making it relevant to learners’ lives and goals"
  • "[I]ncorporat[ing] challenges from current events and multidimensional issues"
  • "Get[ing] learners engaged and involved in real-world issues"
  • "Good preparation for learner projects, either individual or group"
  • "[C]ritical thinking"

"Problem-solving questions can also range

  • "[F]rom relatively straightforward scenarios in which the recommended strategies and solutions might be known, or well accepted"
  • "[T]o very complex scenarios in which answers and solutions are not known and in need of truly creative and innovative thinking"
  • "As faculty, we can be challenging our students to work on questions for which there are not known answers or strategies."

4. Additional Question Ideas

  • "Conduct opinion polls/surveys before assigned readings to arouse interest in topics and to get indicators of students' prior knowledge"
  • "Create cognitive dissonance with discomforting information or dilemmas"
  • "Assign writing-to-learn tasks for discussion"
  • "Present activities that require considering opposing views"
  • "Assign a mediatory argument promoting a resolution acceptable to both sides"
  • "Adapt collaborative and cooperative learning techniques, simulations, and role-plays to online uses"
  • "Ask students to evaluate Internet resources"
  • "Ask students to reflect on their responses to the course content and on their learning processes in private journals"