Provocative question
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Design Pattern: Provocative question


Use a provocative question to help spark live debate and then move it into a student led asynchronous discussion forum.


Provocative question OR "virtual poke"


We do not want our learners to be passive participants in synchronous fora but instead want to increase their cognitive presence through a visible flow of interaction. When you have a 'flat' live synchronous forum, with a room full of lurkers, how to you spark activity? And by extension, how do you flow this into an asynchronous online discussion space.



This pattern has derived from running a FISHBOWL session using the conferencing tool Adobe Connect. This worked as a synchronous convergence session with two or more tutors chatting live with an attending audience having access to the chat room. This concept could be applied to a live lecture/lab session where students have their own devices and can login into a back channel. This back channel would need to be monitored/managed by a support tutor.


During the live session throw in something provocative. It may simply be a question (but should be related to the material of the course or discipline i.e. not a random question) with a simple response expected e.g. by a poll. Avoid asking the banal - focus on agitation and stirring up.

The question should be one that potentially divides opinion - being provocative does not mean being alienating. But the advantage of the mix of chat and video is that the chat can continue while the lecture continues. It requires a reponse - or will evoke a reponse. Ensure that the responses are made visible (polling software is great for this) and can brought back into the session - though the continuing side-chat can be left to run.



This is not likley to be a scaelable solution? Can this be done asynchronously e.g. polling and then releasing the result. Or have an ongoing poll that runs throughout the course?

Ethical and moral decision making?


MSc Systems Biology - we used a a single provocative question mid-way through the open online session. Ours was: "If you could be told what you are likely to die of would you want to know?". This fits in the live Q&A session that we run.


See the design narrative:


Data and References

In their study of student and instructor postings in an UG astronomy course, Mazzolini and Maddison (2007) found "the more instructors posted, the fewer postings were made by students and the shorter were their discussion threads on average, and instructors who attempted to increase the amount of discussion by initiating new postings did not succeed."

Mazzolini, M., & Maddison, S. (2007). When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49(2), 193-213.

Therefore finding other ways to spark inter-learner discussion that do not involve huge instructor overheads are valuable. 

Author(s): Steven Warburton
Published at: 08 Feb 2015 00:21 GMT
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