How to Ask a Quality Question in Higher Education

Professor and Students - Ashford University

Asking a quality question is a great challenge. Many people in higher education live by the rule that “no question is a bad question.” However, a good question does not demand a simple answer. Rather, it expands the thinking upon a topic, creates engagement in the conversation, and encourages people to apply ideas to real life, rather than just spit back facts.

In an educational setting, you may expect that many good questions are asked. But as I have seen far too frequently, students are often viewed as a repository to dump information, with the expectation of remembering facts for a multiple choice test, and nothing more. This dump of information only requires recall, looking up a fact with no valuable knowledge of it beyond filling in a circle to achieve a good grade. It is because of this limited view, that asking quality questions becomes all the more important in higher education. It could very well be the difference between a good grade and a good education.

Socrates said it best when he stated, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” And one kindles a flame through curiosity, excitement, and creativity, allowing the question to start a conversation, not get an answer. But how do you do this?

I feel that Bloom’s Taxonomy is the perfect place to start. It offers an idea where you can take six approaches toward asking a question:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Each area of this chart offers a way to phrase a question and make it more engaging, rather than simply asking someone to recall a fact. It requires critical thought by the person who is being asked to answer. Here is an example:

Normal question –

What are the goals of Barack Obama’s higher education plan?

Good question –

While Obama’s higher education plan encourages making college more affordable, could the impact of using performance-based funding actually damage schools serving low-income populations and widen the divide in education based on income?

The first question essentially asks you to repeat back bullet points. However, the second question falls into the analysis category. You must weigh the pros and cons of ideas to analyze the impact it may have on a population. And that is just one of the six ways you could approach this topic to encourage those being asked to think more deeply about a topic and learn from their answer.

Ultimately, the goal in asking a good question is to make it more about applying information to education opportunities, getting the student engaged and excited about a topic, and encouraging the desire to learn more. And students should always remember that these questions can work both ways. Ask your professor good questions, and a lecture might turn into a valuable conversation.

Written by: Dr. Andrew Shean
As Executive Dean of the College of Education for Ashford University, Dr. Shean is responsible for academic, curricular, and co-curricular policies, as well as the academic programs of the college. His duties include coordination of campus deans, chairpersons, and faculty in various academic environments, and interaction with accreditation agencies. He also supports the University provost and president in the achievement of University goals. Dr. Shean earned his Doctor of Educational Leadership and Management degree from Alliant International University and holds an MA in Education and a BA in Sociology from the University of Northern Colorado.

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