I recently had a discussion with a group of students that started with me stating a rather unusual request.
“You need to stop asking questions.”
This is counter to almost everything I encourage in a learning environment. The classroom (be it online, in a room or onsite) is supposed to be a safe place to fail, and a place to ask as many questions as you like – discussion is supposed to be healthy and a key part of learning, isn’t it?
The problem that I had was two-fold: respect and effort.
The type of questions that were being thrown up were of the “I don’t know anything about X” type. Variations of this include “I’ve never heard of that” and “that’s beyond me” are included in this, and aren’t constructive questions.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to me
By saying “I don’t know anything…” or something similar, as an instructor I have to start all over on a particular topic as you have given me no frame of reference to provide the information you need that will make the subject matter understandable. This results in me having to restate material that you possibly already have grasped, resulting in frustration on your side AND mine.
How you ask a question shows that you respect the instructor by giving them something to start with. Frame the question in terms of what you have understood and what is missing. “I understand that …, but I don’t see the connection with …” Is one way to state this.
This is particularly relevant when there are others in the learning environment as you need to respect the time they have with the instructor as well, and if I’m repeating information you all understand, that frustrates everyone.
Effort: You need to do the heavy lifting
By framing the question, it’s shown me that you’re thinking, and allows me to answer the question in a way that will get you to the knowledge quicker, without having to go through all the materials again.
Also, there may be some nuances of the materials that are required reading before the class. Some students like to get their instructors to teach the readings, but at Masters level this may not be possible.
If you haven’t done the reading, then you may need to use those smart phones smartly and Google terms you don’t understand, especially if the majority of the class clearly does. You may need to make up for lack of effort before class… Even if it is through no fault of your own (we all get busy schedules).
But that heavy lifting requires you to think about the questions you ask and to make sure that you are going to get an answer that helps you, not just a repeat.
This discussion ended up with a heart to heart in the class about imposter syndrome (something that affects me), as well as the difficulties faced by students who are just starting their masters (or undergraduate, for that,after) when some of their classmates may be in their final subjects. The students who have been studying longer have usually picked up a vocabulary that can be intimidating to some who are just starting out. Our discussion finished with some wise words from the other lecturer in the room: “Some times you’ve just got to suck it up and learn.”