Designing Good Discussion Questions

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In another post we introduced Bloom’s Taxonomy, specifying how these categories of understanding might help us as we design discussion questions or other learning activities. Thus, as we set our minds to designing “good” discussion questions, we should consider how we might invite learners to engage Bloom’s more complex forms of understanding (analyzeevaluate, or create) in our assessments. Take a look at the following helps sheet developed by The College of New Jersey designed to assist teachers who are seeking to create good discussion questions.

For those of you who have a greater interest in exploring the subject of designing discussion questions, you may find an article on MERLOT helpful. MERLOT, which stands for “Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching,” is a website which also hosts an online journal exploring issues of online learning and teaching. The following link will direct you to an article written by Lynn Akin and Diane Neal (2007) entitled, “CREST+ Model: Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions.” [1] The model outlined in the article has six components that form the acronym “CREST+.” Below is a brief description of each of the six components from the article.

CREST+ represents the following six-fold process for evaluating the ways in which we design effective online discussion questions: 

Cognitive Nature. Readings Base, Experimental Elements, Style of Question, Type of Question, + CharacteristicsCCognitive Nature – The teacher ought to consider the learning theory undergirding his or her approach to education. In Unit 2, we highlighted several of these approaches to learning, noting how these beliefs influence the ways in which we teach.

RReadings Base – The authors suggest that our questions need to reflect the ideas embodied in the required resources in a class.

EExperiential Element – Learners (and especially adult learners) bring their experiences to the learning in our courses, so our questions ought to reflect these distinctions by connecting what they ask to the real world of the students.

SStyle of Question – The authors recommend varying the style of questions used in a course. For example, some teachers create collaborative questions to encourage students to work together. The authors also mention designing questions that relate to current events, or involve case studies, or address controversial issues. Finally, they mention some of the ways in which a question may be crafted in order to communicate teacher presence online by using humor, being personable, or welcoming. 

TType of Question – The authors refer to varying the type of question as well. They provide several examples such as using follow-up questions, student-created questions, reflective questions, open-ended questions, and hypothetical questions.

+: The “+” identifies a list of characteristics that influence how we structure the question. The authors suggest that teachers be careful to provide clear instructions, such as any requirements or dates associated with the questions that we choose to use.

[1] Lynn Akin and Diane Neal, "CREST+ Model: Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions," MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 3.2 (2007),

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