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Report on "Asking Better Questions: How to Help Your Students Get More Out of a Case"

Posted By Allyson Freedman, Friday, September 21, 2012

Allyson Freedman

This article reports on the second of three webinars on case teaching during September's Case Method Month, Asking Better Questions: How to Help Your Students Get the Most Out of a Case.

Today Greg Merkley, manager of case writing for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, presented a thoughtful webinar called "Asking Better Questions: How to Help Your Students Get the Most Out of a Case.” The Kellogg School alumnus and instructor stressed the importance of asking questions, listening and responding as the main tools in effective case teaching.

Prioritizing the ability to ask questions as a case teacher’s most prominent skill, Merkley breaks down the various types of questions that can be used to create a more stimulating and effective learning environment.

"Without good questions, no amount of listening or responding is important,” said Merkley. "Questions are a case instructor’s tool. More is always good, and good questions show dominance of the instructor.”

By using a strong and diverse set of questions, teachers can create a more engaging learning environment, as students are motivated to participate and voice their opinions. Leading the class discussion through myriad thought-provoking questions will result in increased class energy in addition to overall clarity in each case study.

"As you teach the case multiple times, you will become more natural with the flow of the conversation,” said Merkley. "You learn which topics lead into other topics and become familiar with mistakes made in different classes.”

Merkley breaks down the process of asking questions by discussing how different types of questions can help students better absorb and engage with the case at hand. He presented three broad categories of questions, each containing several types of questions with various pedagogical purposes. "Specific questions can increase student involvement,” said Merkley. "They can help students apply their ideas and deepen the students understanding.”

The types of questions he discusses include diagnostic, informational, action, priority/sequence, prediction and hypothetical. From making clear decisions on a case to comparing cases to other corporations and competition, different kinds of questions invoke distinctive reactions that heighten student learning.

For example, summarizing and follow-up questions help enforce the themes of the class discussion and drive home some of the most important aspects of the case. The summarizing questions will often lead to open-ended discussions that will allow the students to think critically. "Follow-up questions give students the opportunity to test their thinking in identifying questions, " said Merkley.

However, despite the importance of asking questions, there has to be a delicate balance in the type of questions asked in a classroom setting to ensure that students are focused. "Asking too many specific questions is boring and lowers energy level in the classroom setting,” said Merkley.

Ultimately, you want your questions to create a simulating environment that will leave students with a clear lesson learned. In a 2002 Harvard Business School study, Dorothy Leonard and Brian DeLacey highlighted the efficacy of learning through discovery, what Merkley calls the "Aha! Effect.” This is when a student struggles with a concept until they come to a discovery that teaches them a lesson. In order to achieve the Aha! Effect, Merkley states that questions should push students to engage, question one another and make decisions. "Asking good questions is the type of learning that can last,” said Merkley.

>> Download Merkley's Slide Presentation


Allyson Freedman is the Communications and Conference Intern at the Global Business School Network.  She attends George Washington University and recently returned to Washington, DC from studying abroad in London.

Tags:  Case Method  case studies 

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