Questions, Comments, Concerns? Professors Reveal the Most Effective Student Questions

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Even if you want to get more involved in your class by asking questions, sometimes you just don’t know what exactly to say and resort to “Will this be on the test?” Check out some suggestions from University of Florida professors and TAs on what kinds of questions they would like to hear more of from their students. 

Challenge the material

It’s easy to sit in class, online shop and passively take notes without much thought as your professor lectures, but the students who really excel are the ones who don’t let the information go through one ear and out the other. “Challenge the assumptions of the readings and the lectures. Challenge in a respectful way, but one that isn’t shying away from confrontation,” political science professor Daniel A. Smith said. “Learning is all about getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself to think critically and from a different perspective.” Although voicing your questions may be uncomfortable because you may be the only one speaking up, it’s a good way to fuel the fire for the dialogue to continue. Whether it’s an observation you want to share or a question that could benefit the whole class, don’t be afraid to speak up and challenge your prior assumptions.

 Clarify Misunderstandings

It’s especially intimidating to ask questions aloud in a giant lecture hall filled with over 200 people and hundreds of eyes focused directly on you, but that’s exactly what journalism professor Katrice Graham suggested you do. “If I’m speaking and students aren’t processing the concept, it helps when you raise your hand and ask that question right then. Chances are 20 other students have the same question, and it helps us become better teachers because then we know that the way we’re delivering our message isn’t connecting with our audience,” Graham said. It’s your right to ask questions when you don’t understand something, and it will help you to be successful in the class in the long run. After all, you’re paying thousands of dollars for this education, so you might as well make the most of it, right? Even if speaking out in front of so many people is frightening, you can approach the professor at the end of class or take advantage of office hours to ask in a smaller environment.

Understand Concepts

We all wish college was as easy as asking your professor for the answers to the test and writing them down, but that’s not how you learn. In order to secure an education that will stick with you for the long term, it’s important to ask questions about the actual concepts of the lesson, rather than for instant gratification answers (even though that’s what we all really want). “Students should ask questions that help them understand the concepts and applications of those concepts rather than just asking for the answer to certain questions,” chemistry TA Scott Liu said. “There’s no such thing as a dumb question because all questions can only help a person learn more or clarify something a person did not already know.”

Make the professor Think

Professors don’t know everything about every single topic they cover. There’s plenty of information out there that even your professor doesn’t know; even if she brags everyday about how she’s so experienced in their field that they’ve worked with Oprah Winfrey and Kim Kardashian. Although we’re supposed to be the ones learning, keep it interesting for your instructors too by making them learn as well. “I like the questions that challenge me and make me stop and think,” journalism professor Steve Orlando said. “That tells me the student is listening and really processing the information. The questions where I have to go look up the answer are the ones I like the most.” Orlando recommended that students don’t just take notes, memorize for the test and then forget about everything, but to rather internalize the information and think outside the box to come up with logical questions that delve deeper into the subject matter.

Ask Questions in the Moment

If something confuses you in class, your best bet is to ask a question right away while the topic is still fresh in your mind and your professor’s mind. Don’t let the fear of looking dumb in front of your classmates keep you from obtaining the education you deserve. That means having to man up and ignore the stares and whispers of the other students. “It’s better for students to ask questions while they’re in class other than to wait until later on when it’s pretty late to email TAs or professors,” former microbiology lab TA Leydi Wong said. “It’s better to jump on the situation while you’re in class if you’re confused and get hands on help rather than get us to explain it through email.”  Professors get dozens of emails a day; you don’t want to annoy the person that holds the key to your grade with a question you could have asked in person.

Apply the Lessons to Your Life

Just as college is all about preparing you for the real world after college, the questions you ask should do the same. Take the concepts you learn in class and ask how to apply them to your life outside of the classroom. “I try and pique students’ curiosity about different opportunities so they can come to me with personal questions about how they can apply that to their academic career interest,” honors professor Melissa Johnson said. “It’s always great to take it to the next level of application for the future.” In order to start building a successful future for yourself, keep asking where you can find more information or how to get connected with your area of academic interest. Planning out your future starts with active engagement and participation in your own learning.

Major foodie, believes that there's no such thing as too many puns, and aspires to have a giant slide in her house one day. Freshman journalism major at the University of Florida.

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