Can Web 2.0 improve Q&A?

May 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm (Twitter, Web 2.0) (, , )

The use of questioning to gauge understanding and provoke discussion is a familiar tool in traditional classrooms. Due to their directed nature, question and answer (Q&A) sessions are more easily utilised in smaller classes than larger classes.  This is because larger classrooms like lecture halls can create barriers to interaction due to their physical size and generally larger numbers of students. In this situation individual student questions and opinions can become lost in amongst the ‘masses’. Equally lecturers may struggle to put forward questions, correct understanding or, create discussion when they have an obligation to continue teaching to the majority of students.

So, can web 2.0 applications enable us to  reach greater numbers of our students in a large class environment?

Gary felt awkward Tweeting to ask to go to the bathroom

Web2.0 applications by virtue of their informal and social nature, promote the development of educational communities. It is these that Clinton (2011) identifies as allowing the development of the critical thinking encouraged during the andragogical process. Web2.0 applications also provide a window for other students to passively view any discussions or questioning threads. The behavior of these ‘lurkers’ (a Twitter term for a non-participatory user) allows them to observe the cognitive processes that others apply to the questioning or discussions and in the process learning themselves  (Williams & Jacobs, 2004).

A number of Web2.0 applications are available that allow synchronous, and more importantly free, questions and answers discussions to occur during a normal classroom session. My initial thought was to use Twitter as a Q&A tool due to its ease of use and familiarity to a number of students and staff. The capacity of Twitter to create engagement allowing asynchronous and synchronous conversations to occur in and out of the classroom environment is its greatest asset.  In a recent study (Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2011) found that use of Twitter as a discussion tool increased grades in comparison to non-users. However Twitter does have some limiting features such as a small message size, hard to follow discussion threads, and noisy background chatter (social conversations), that may make it less than idea for in-class real-time Q&A discussions.

Fortunately there are two other tools which are also freely available and address some of the downsides of Twitter. Those tools are Google Moderator, & the Live Question Tool, an open source application developed byHarvardUniversity. Both operate in a similar way so I will discuss them as a whole rather than as individual applications.

Both applications allow students to post questions to the speaker/lecturer during a lecture in real-time.  Responses to each question can be posted by staff or if allowed, by other students. Students are also able to vote on individual questions to highlight the relevance  of the question to them.  The Live Question Tool also enables anonymous posting which may allow previously ‘shy responders’ (Educause, 2009) to participate in class discussions. In a large class where a greater numbers of questions may be asked the voting method can provide some filtering enabling the lecturer to devote their time to the most popular questions. Voting can also enable’ themes or the ‘knowledge gap’ to become more obvious to the lecturer who can then correct or revisit the content to suit. In contrast to Twitter these two tools provide a structured, simple approach to discussions however neither application offers the same degree of social integration as Twitter.

Twitter, Google Moderator, and Live Question Tool, are just some of the applications that can allow students and lecturers alike to engage in synchronous and asynchronous questioning and discussions. Technology availability (cell phones, laptops), communication medium (Wi-Fi) and appropriate use guidelines are just a few of the wider issues surrounding the deployment of these applications. These issues should not be under estimated however they should be measured against the benefits of using the technology e.g. increased learner engagement, creation of educational communities, and shy responder participation.


Clinton, G. (2011). Educating for critical thinking: thought-encouraging questions in a community of inquiry. Higher Education Research and Development, 30(3), 357-370.

Educause. (2009). 7 things you should know about…Live Question Tool. Retrieved from

Junco, R., Heiberger, G., & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2), 119-132.

Williams, J. B., & Jacobs, J. S. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247.



  1. thomcochrane said,

    Great to see some alternative ideas to Twitter discussed. We can buy in to one tool and then stop critically reflecting on whether it’s the best tool for the job or not. Conversely there are times to take stock and make the most of the tool kit we’ve developed as teachers, without chasing something new: e.g.

    • kayhammond68 said,

      I thought one of the comments to that post was interesting!

  2. townsendlm said,

    Great cartoon Mike! This sounds like a tool that I would feel comfortable using as a student in a lecture style classroom.

    How do you go about cutting down on the same students who always answer the questions, and encouraging the lurkers or quiet ones to get involved?

  3. kayhammond68 said,

    It would be interesting to see how it would work in a real setting – I think it would be great for getting questions out there, on the other hand, it wouldn’t take much for students to open another window and be surfing the net during the lecture. Also, while typing the questions, students would miss the next part of the lecture, so it would muck up note taking. The clicking of typing while trying to listen could be a distraction. I think lecturers would need to factor these into their sessions. Maybe by offering question breaks, so nobody misses out or types on other sites. I’d be keen to try this out in practice though.

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