It can be daunting to interrupt an instructor during lecture and ask them to clarify a concept. Some students may shy away from asking questions during class for a variety of reasons.
Some people refuse to ask questions in fear of looking unintelligent. Sometimes, students may not ask questions at all because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves, or they fear of being judged by their classmates if the question they ask is seen as ‘stupid’.
It’s probably a silly, trivial matter for some, but I think asking questions is an essential part of learning.
Humans are passionately curious creatures
We are always looking for a reason behind phenomenon, and are constantly asking why certain things are the way they are. Science aficionados have a voracious appetite for knowledge. We are constantly stimulated by new ideas, emerging technologies, and scientific discoveries. We immerse ourselves into the world of S&T and most of us enjoy rational, respectful debates from time to time.
If we are always seeking to learn more about the world around us, then how do we expect to yield these answers if we fail to constantly ask ‘why’?
Why you should ask your instructor questions
When you don’t understand something! How are you going to understand a particular concept that confuses you? When something is just not clicking with you, ask your professor! They’re getting paid to teach you after all. By asking a question, there’s a good chance there’s at least one classmate with the same concern.
When you feel the instructor has made a discrepancy. If you’re instructor reviewed a homework question and they made some sort of error (i.e. calculation error), correct them. Your confused classmates will thank you for it.
When you have a (quick) comment or question that is related to the lecture. Do you have an interesting tidbit you’d like to share with the class—and happens to relate to what is being taught? By relating your lecture to the ‘real world’ you are showing your instructor that you are capable of applying the concept to everyday life.
The do’s and don’ts of asking questions
Still feel iffy about asking questions? Perhaps you can follow this list to boost your confidence!
Do ask questions in class:
- When your instructor asks the class if they have any questions (duh).
- When you are truly confused about the lecture.
- If your class size is small. It is likely that a smaller class size will allow your professor to accommodate each student.
Don’t ask (or avoid) questions in class:
- For the sake of asking questions. It can be good to challenge current trends, but it can be tiresome to your classmates (and instructor) if you are interrupting the lecture to debate all the time.
- If your question is completely irrelevant to the lecture.
- If the class size is large.
Do it in your own time!
If you still can’t muster up the courage to speak up in class, there are alternative ways to ask your instructor questions.
Visit the office hours! Professors will usually have a set time for office hours to ask any questions. This is typically a one-on-one setting, which may be more comfortable for you. You can even engage in a civil debate if you really wanted to.
E-mail your instructor. Sometimes, your professor will only meet up with you if you arrange an appointment with them, or they can even answer your questions via e-mail.
Ask questions after class. Unless your instructor says otherwise, they will typically stay behind for a few minutes to answer any quick questions.
If you still can’t ask your instructors questions for whatever reason, there are last resort options. Ask fellow classmates and teaching assistants (TA) for the course, as you may find them less intimidating than your professor. Resort to your textbook readings, and even additional resources at your campus library.
Otherwise, Google may become your new BFF.
Renee C. has received her B.Sc. in Honours Life Sciences at McMaster University. She loves educating others about different topics in science, and has developed a passion for scientific outreach. When she’s not writing articles for Hemtecks, she’s either volunteering or checking her social media accounts every 20 minutes. Along with Tiffany (Tianhemtecks), she also facilitates the blog’s Facebook page.