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Establishing a Teaching Presence through Effective Questioning Techniques in Forums

Establishing a Teaching Presence through Effective Questioning Techniques in Forums

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By John Blair Clark, Jr.
Faculty Member, School of Arts and Humanities, American Public University

I, like many parents, took the opportunity to spend time with my son this summer after the completion of his freshman year. I was surprised when he informed me that I ask too many questions of him.

I thought this was his way of politely telling his father to mind his own business. But at the same time, I wondered if my online students had the same thought. Were my students experiencing the same feelings when it came to our forum discussions?

In my quest to increase my teaching presence, I sought inspiration from the standards of the Community of Inquiry (COI), a concept introduced by pragmatist philosophers John Dewey and C.S. Peirce. COI is a theoretical process of creating meaningful learning experiences through the development of three interdependent elements: social, cognitive and teaching presence.

Getting Students Actively Engaged in Forum Discussions

Instructors often struggle to teach their students how to improve their critical thinking skills. Active engagement remains an issue. But it is possible to develop an online community by establishing a teaching presence through effective questioning techniques.

I turned to the COI and discovered the development of an online community in which “one’s teaching presence is composed of three areas.” They are course design, facilitation of discourse and direct instruction, according to Debra Beck of the University of Wyoming.

Based upon the nature of the teaching presence, my focus would be to facilitate an animated discourse. Beck further explains that “this area seeks to answer the question as to how you will be present in your forum discussions by facilitating conversations, modeling appropriate behavior and probing for critical thinking? The answer is by questioning the student.”

Additional research highlighted five significant results that we need to be aware of for developing effective online student questioning techniques. They are:

  • The level of student responses is relational to the level of the instructor’s question prompts.
  • Questions at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy facilitate higher levels of student responses.
  • 80% of student replies were at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in terms of knowledge, comprehension and application.
  • According to Imogen Ramsey of Eastern Kentucky University, “Skillful questioning must be constant and consistent so that it becomes an art.”
  • Ramsey also notes that “Few teachers are willing to devote time and energy to cultivate this teaching strategy.”

Question Prompts for High-Level Thinking and Forum Discussions

So, how is the establishment of an online community through your teaching presence working for you in terms of developing effective questioning techniques and the level of critical thinking expressed in your students’ forum discussions? Are you willing to take the time and energy necessary to develop this strategic art?

Here is a list of effective question prompts to elicit higher-level thinking from your students. They are not the definitive solution, but they are useful as starters for improving your teaching presence.

  • Assess learning: What is the most important point learned?
  • Clarify vague comments: Could you elaborate on that point?
  • Explore attitudes, values and feelings: What is your reaction to this argument?
  • See concepts from another perspective: How is this viewed by those who disagree?
  • Refine a statement or idea: Would you disagree with the author?
  • Support assertion: What part of the text led you to that conclusion?
  • Respond to one another: What do you think of Tom’s idea?
  • Investigate a thought process: What are the assumptions that informed this idea?
  • Predict possible outcomes: What might happen if…?
  • Connect and organize information: How does this concept relate to our topic last week?
  • Ask to apply a principle or formula: How does this principle apply to this issue?
  • Illustrate a concept with an example: Can you think of an example to illustrate your point?

The COI has been shown to be an effective evaluation tool for assessing the online community environment and the development of one’s teaching presence to improve our students’ critical thinking skills. Research has found that strategic questioning techniques can be employed within the forum to generate higher levels of thinking in the course of those discussions.

However, research also has shown that skillful questioning must become an art, but “few teachers are willing to devote the time and energy necessary to cultivate this teaching strategy,” according to Ramsey. By employing effective question prompts for higher-level thinking, instructors can increase their teaching presence within the online classroom.

About the Author

John (Blair) Clark is an instructor of religion and philosophy at American Public University. He holds a Master of Divinity in theology from Concordia Seminary.

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