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Managing Student Questions Online

Mon Mar 23, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Our students are used to counting on face-to-face moments to ask questions during instruction, from leaning over to a classmate to clarify or raising a hand in class. With so much course work and communication moved online, confusion compounds: they are not only learning along with you how to learn online, but they have less access to immediate feedback and answers. As a result, you are likely fielding many, many questions.

OU faculty discussed this issue and offered a few ideas based on principles from the Quality Online Teaching Certification Course and their own practices. Here are some of those ideas, with additional resources.

How to Manage Student Questions Online

These structures and strategies normally require consistent, intentional use. In addition to creating a forum or discussion space, give students plenty of instruction and encouragement ot use these spaces in order to make them successful.

Create a Q & A Forum in Moodle. 

Near the top of your Moodle page, create a forum called Q & A, which will be the place for asking class-based questions. You can subscribe to the forum so that you get email notifications, and set auto-subscription so that students can get emails too (and can also opt out). The forum prevents repeated questions and answers and allows students to answer one another’s questions. See e-LIS’ Help Library for more on forums.

Offer virtual office hours.

More than a case of learning difficult course material, rapid fire questions may be the result of general anxiety and uncertainty. If answers are not helping through the Q&A forum or email, or students have more questions than you can manage, you may want to limit questions with the guarantee that you have virtual office hours. If possible, offer these hours at varied times throughout the week (with an option on the weekend or an evening, if possible). Additionally, you could set up Google Appointments to provide multiple options without being responsible to be present unless someone schedules time with you.

Communicate student and faculty expectations. 

With the rapid move to remote teaching, there has been little to no time to establish expectations around how often to ask questions or how to seek answers. If questions are too voluminous to manage as quickly as you’d like, or students are expressing frustration, explicitly state how the Q&A forum or email questions should be used for it to be most effective, and when and how quickly you will try to respond. For specific strategies, see our Reduce Questions to the Inbox Teaching Tip.

Direct tech support questions to e-LIS or others. 

Especially if you are new to any online-mediated teaching, it is important to use the support available to you. Post the Student Guide for Online Learning to the top of Moodle, as this is the simplest guide most relevant to current needs. If students email you with Moodle functionality questions, direct them to this document along with assurance that they can call e-Learning and Instructional Support (or “the Moodle people”!).

Ask students how they can help one another. 

In urgent situations like this, our students may also want to help one another. Ask students for ideas about how they can support and communicate with one another. They may be more motivated to do this as they are more isolated than usual. They might suggest a text chain, messaging app, or something else. Based on student recommendations in the past, Kieran Mathieson from the School of Business’s classes have used a Discord channel, which allows a continuously available option for students to talk to one another via chat, audio, or video without requiring instructor presence. This should be optional, but students may have great ideas and solutions.

With weeks left in this semester, it is crucial to acknowledge your limitations and protect your energy reserves. When we care for ourselves, we can continue to care for our students.

Thanks to OU faculty to offered these questions and supported one another with answers and ideas. Join in on the discussion by enrolling in the OU Faculty Teaching Community eSpace.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Written and designed by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCView all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.