The Use of Questions in Facilitation

Our facilitation topic this past week was “The use of questions in facilitation” and it spurred many of us to explore how we can better employ questions in our professional contexts.  As a wrap-up for the week, we want to share some themes in responses to the “Ticket out the door” activity.  This was the guidance provided for the activity: “This week’s topic was the role of questions in facilitation.  Upon reflection, what lingering questions do you have on this topic?  Is there anything you would like to share about your learning this week?”

The group shared many key takeaways from the week, including:

  • Instructors / facilitators must be adept at both asking and answering questions within their learning environments.

  • There are many different kinds of questions and they can play different roles (e.g. exploratory questions to probe basic knowledge; prompting students by asking challenging questions).

  • Technology provides an opportunity to ask questions in a multitude of ways, thereby enabling us to engage more learners than we otherwise would.

  • The potential for bias should always be considered carefully in learning design (e.g. deportment can help or hinder the effectiveness of using questions in facilitation, depending on your audience).

  • Constructive controversy and asking questions are closely linked.  For example, more ownership of the learning experience is placed with the learners themselves; questions can be deployed to support a constructive controversy environment (e.g. defuse or explore a situation).

  • The role of questions and the resulting “meaning-making” aid learners in building both cognitive presence and social presence.

 One respondent made a very interesting suggestion: “What if ‘asking questions’ becomes part of the team charter exercise/document at the beginning of a workshop? Giving learners the ‘permission’ to ask questions of others to create a better understanding of the topic”.  We think this is a wonderful idea that could help create a rich, interactive learning experience; while simultaneously supporting the application of constructive controversy, with its many benefits.

 Another respondent shared a lingering question:How can we avoid bias in the development of questions for facilitation? Are there any resources devoted to this topic?”  We came across many resources that spoke to overcoming bias in facilitation, including a couple we would recommend: Stanford’s Guide for Facilitating Group Discussions (2019) and The Secrets of Facilitation: The SMART Guide to Getting Results with Groups (Wilkinson, 2012).  The latter offers valuable advice in chapter two on how to construct an effective, open-ended “starting question” that will encourage rich dialogue.

In conclusion, we want to thank you again for making this week an interesting and intellectually-challenging experience. It was wonderful to see so many of you espousing the benefits of questions in facilitation, while also recognizing that care must be taken to ensure learning objectives are met.  If you are interested in a deeper exploration of the use of questions in your facilitation practice we would highly recommend The Socratic Classroom: Reflective Thinking Through Collaborative Inquiry (Chesters, 2012), which explores Socratic pedagogy; a “collaborative inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning suitable…to all educational settings (p. vii).

 

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