question marks

I have found that over the tenure of my teaching career I am not always as clear as I think I am. Inevitably at least a few students will misunderstand my directions or I accidentally leave out a detail.

It can be embarrassing and difficult for students to ask a question. In a face to face class the student can use facial cue’s and body language to show they are not being obnoxious in asking for additional clarification. However, when it comes to digital material in an online course or even when a student is at home away from the teacher, asking via email for clarifying details can seem trivial. The student may feel stupid, especially if the response is “it is written in the 3rd paragraph” or “I mentioned it in class.” I know I am trying to be helpful when I respond with things like this, but it can also squash a students willingness to ask questions in the future.

Teachers usually want to be helpful but it can be hard to maintain the same level of enthusiasm for helping a student when you have received the same email from multiple students. Typing out the same response can be frustrating, even though the questions are valid.

Use a Google Doc

Instead of relying on verbal directions or directions typed into a website or LMS, try posting your directions to a Google Document set as “anyone can comment.” This would allow students to insert comments to ask questions. As the teacher you can then modify the directions to be more clear. Since the directions are on a Google Doc ALL of the students in the class would have access to the updated directions.

anyone with the link can comment


Reply to the Comment

You are also able to reply to the students question and the answer would be visible for other students to see the answer. Inserting a comment asking for clarification is much easier than having to figure out what words to compose to ask the teacher in an email.

Student commenting on syllabus

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