Top online teaching tip: ask your students questions

Submitted by miranda.prynne on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 17:26
Asking students questions during online classes provides insight into what they understand and where they need support. David Martin explains how to do this effectively when teaching remotely
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This video will cover: 

00:24 Why asking students questions in online classes is so important 

01:00 Different approaches to asking questions online – what works and what doesn’t 

02:24 Technology options for asking questions demanding sophisticated or complex answers 


Hello, can you see my screen? OK, with the formalities over, let me introduce myself. I’m David Martin and I’m a senior lecturer in life sciences at the University of Dundee, one of the best places in the UK for studying biological sciences.  

In this video, I’m going to give you my top teaching tip for online engagement – and that tip is, ask your class. 

Asking questions can really help your students engage with the material, instead of just listening and writing it down. They can work with that material and really test themselves to see if they understand it. And as a lecturer, you can also assess whether the students have learned that material. However, there are some ways of asking questions that are better than others.  

If you were to ask a question verbally, just like in a lecture, and expect the students to respond verbally, then you may be waiting some time. Students don’t like putting their hands up or interrupting a lecturer to ask questions and so, when that question is asked, the answers can be scarce and very slow to come. 

Asking verbally and expecting questions through a chat can work really well for small groups.   

However, if you’ve got a large class and you ask a simple question where everyone can respond, then very rapidly the notifications become unmanageable.  

Some video software will allow you to put up polls where you can ask a quick, off-the-cuff question, and see how many students respond with each particular answer, and indeed how many respond at all.  

Now I find students really like this. It’s anonymous, it’s quick and it’s very simple. You can do it straight off the cuff. But it only gives you a very tiny view into what students really understand. 

If you want to be more sophisticated, you can use more advanced software that lets you pose multiple-choice questions, or word clouds, or similar things, and there are plenty of software packages out there that can do this.  

Now, I’m not really much of a fan of those because they tend to be inviting students to recognise the correct answer rather than really know and understand it. 

So, I developed AskMyClass, which allows me to pose questions to the students and them to respond in an appropriate way. So, for example, it could be drawing curly arrows on an organic chemistry reaction or highlighting, drawing the boundary around particular cell types in a tissue, or maybe sketching the shape of a graph, if I change the parameters in an experiment.  

All of these things that we used to be able to do in small-group tutorials, but which a multiple-choice question just cannot really get students to engage with. I find the students really enjoy this.  

They learn very well and they like to respond in class and test themselves, even when they don’t understand. And I can use this software to really get a grip of what my students understand, keep them engaged, keep them working with the material, and I can then explain immediately if they haven’t got it, or I can move on to the next topic if they have got it.   

So that’s my top tip: ask your class questions, whether it be through a poll, if you want to use the chat that’s great, or using specialist software such as AskMyClass. It really helps you keep the students engaged and assess what they know, and how well they know it.  


This video was produced by David Martin, senior lecturer in life sciences at the University of Dundee

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Asking students questions during online classes offers insight into what they understand and where they need support, and boosts engagement with the material. Here David Martin explains how instructors can go about doing this effectively when teaching remotely