Questions: Why Do They Matter?

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke urged the younger correspondent to learn to love questions, even those that were unanswered. This admonition has stuck with me for several decades, especially in times when I am seeking answers to seemingly tough questions. In thinking about actually loving questions, I contemplated my own relationship with them, and I realized that asking questions is one of a teacher’s most essential responsibilities. The act of posing a query is one of the characteristics that actually sets this profession apart. Reflecting on this epiphany, I wondered if and how exactly I pose evocative and powerful questions. I decided that there are several opportunities to place a well-developed inquiry, and I wanted to share those. The “Who are you?” questions are ones we direct to ourselves; the “What are you thinking?” questions are ones we need to ask our students; and the “So what?” questions are for students to ask themselves—with a little prompting from us, naturally.

Laptop Zones

Laptops and tablet devices of various sorts are everywhere in college classrooms at this point. Students use them to take notes. Keying is quicker than writing notes longhand, and typed notes are subsequently easier to read. Faculty have two legitimate worries; students are using their devices for activities other than note-taking, and bright screens filled with colorful graphics can distract more than just the student who’s not taking notes. The authors referenced below think this is an especially serious problem in large lecture halls where students sit close together and it’s all but impossible for the teacher to control who’s doing what with their electronic devices.

Involving Students in Rubric Creation Using Google Docs

Wide consensus confirms the usefulness of rubrics. For instructors, rubrics expedite grading with standards; at the same time, they reinforce learning objectives and standardize course curricula. For students, rubrics provide formative guidelines for assignments while—ideally—spurring reflection and self-assessment.

Reenvisioning Rubrics: A Few Brief Suggestions

Linda Suskie’s Assessing Student Learning documents a wide variety of common assessment errors. They result from the subjective nature of grades in all but the most factual subjects. Many failures point to the need for more objectivity and a better system of accountability, including leniency, generosity, and severity errors; halo, contamination, similar-to-me, and first-impression biases; and that most common of errors, rater drift—that is, the unintentional redefining of scoring criteria as the marker grows tired.

Encouraging Students to Think Beyond the Course Material

Research has documented the value of reflective journaling in both face-to-face and online courses. It is especially beneficial for beginning students in first-year seminar courses. But I hear you asking, “What professor has the time read a whole stack of journals?” And I would have to tell you that in my experience as a professor teaching an early childhood development course at our community college, one of the most valuable and least time-consuming assignments that I give my students are these journals.

Developing Self-Regulated Learning Skills: A Unique Approach

New college students come to postsecondary education with some accurate expectations. They expect that college will be harder than high school. Most anticipate having to study more. But they also expect that those study approaches that served them well in high school will work equally well in college. For many, those first couple of months in college are a rude awakening.

Questions about Digital Technology and Higher Education

An interesting essay in the Journal of Management Education highlights “mounting evidence in the cognitive neuroscience literature that digital technology is restructuring the way our students read and think” (p. 374). It proceeds to explore the implications of this premise for higher education generally and for teachers more specifically.

Supervising Interns at a Distance

Internships are widely valued by students, faculty, and employers. A well-designed internship experience can be a powerful learning opportunity, full of chances to apply knowledge and skills, work collaboratively with others, and develop career interests. As a faculty member and codirector of my department’s internship program, I help lead an internship program designed to give students meaningful professional experiences closely tied to their academic program and supervised by a faculty member. Recently, my codirector and I became concerned that our students at more distant internship locations might be at a disadvantage compared to our students placed more locally. It seemed that distant interns experienced less close supervisory relationships with their faculty supervisor, which might negatively affect student learning. As a result, we developed some strategies to enhance our supervision of interns at a distance.