Question the Assumptions to Assess Outcomes

Are you a social butterfly? Whether you are or not, you meet new people and are exposed to new thoughts and content constantly. When you are in a discussion at work, or in a social setting, of a topic where you have little knowledge, you ask clarifying questions and try to relate the response content to something in your life relevant to you. Your brain is trying to categorize it and compare it to knowledge already retained. If the response to your question continues your thought process, builds on ideas and is relevant to you, you continue to dialogue and ask further questions for understanding. You are engaged. However, if this does not happen in one or two question attempts, the discussion does not engage you, and you lose interest and move on. This happens in the class as well.

While at a recent conference the idea of having students question the assumptions for assignments and projects was mentioned and it caused me to think about this in higher education and course design.

Questioning the assumptions leads one to reflection, creativity, critical thinking and higher order thought processes. In a face-to-face class, the teacher guides the learning with questions and discussion to keep students involved and engaged in the learning, and to assess learning before moving to the next topic. Assuming that the students all mastered content without assessment is ineffective, therefore question the assumptions. Klisc, McGil & Hobbs (2009) state that “the incorporation of assessment had a significant positive impact on a number of discussion outcomes, including communication skills, amount of thought about the topic under discussion, awareness of differing perspectives, depth of thinking, critical analysis and reflection, and learning through the collaborative construction of knowledge.” (p. 678)


How does one use quality questions for active learning and engagement and what is a quality question? How does this apply to asynchronous discussions in an online course, when used to assess outcome alignment and content mastery?



When creating quality questions, question the assumptions. Have the student question their own assumptions about a topic through reflection and research to support a different viewpoint or outcome.

When planning class questions or discussion board questions in online courses, here are some strategies for creating quality questions in your instruction:

  • Remember, and incorporate, your class or weekly goals and outcomes into the questions
  • Ask open ended questions to question the common assumptions and encourage student creativity and synthesis
  • Use direct and specific questions. Use a sequence of questions versus multilayered questions
  • Ask questions throughout the class to assess understanding. Ask one question at a time, to leave time for student processing in learning. If an online course, ask weekly questions on the topics in order to use them throughout the course content

Quality question used throughout the course can lead to creative ideas, enriched discussions and learning between students, improve engagement and be more enjoyable to teach.

I challenge you to use these tips to incorporate quality questions in one of your courses and come back and comment about your experience?

Written by Kelley E.B. Senkowski, M.Ed.
Online Design Consultant, Ferris State University


Klisc, C., McGill, T. J., & Hobbs, V. J. (2009). The effect of assessment on the outcomes of asynchronous online discussion as perceived by instructors. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(5), 666-682

The Teaching Center, Washington University in St. Louis, Asking Questions to Improve Learning

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