Have you ever asked this at the end of a class? I have! I was recently filling in for a class, and when I ran out of material (with still 20min to go in the class), I found myself looking at the clock, then looking at the students, asking them if they had any questions. I had hoped that they would ask so many questions that the last 20min would fly by. Did anyone ever ask anything? Nope! Because they knew that if they didn’t ask anything, they would get to go home early. A classic rookie mistake. One that I have learned from…
The American Astronomical Society confirms that this type of non-specific feedback question in fact discourages learning. Definitely not my intention. Two issues with this question: the nature of students, and the nature of the question. A silent response from the class does not confirm that the learners had clear understanding of the lesson.
First, not many students admit they don’t know something in front of the class. Especially if no one else puts up their hand, students may feel that they are the only ones who don’t understand. And in my experience, usually the person who does ask a question understood the lesson, and only needs a small clarification on something.
Secondly, the question needs to be worded so that the instructor will actually be able to determine if the students understood what the learning outcome was. For example, instead of “does anybody have any questions?” I should’ve said: “let’s think of some other examples where we could apply this concept.” This would have given me a much clearer understanding if the students actually learned the material. I will definitely be more aware of how I wrap-up a lesson or concept, and “are there any questions?” won’t be one of my closing sentences!