Visit Modern Campus

Stepping up to the Why (Part 2)

Stepping up to the Why (Part 2)
Without making a concerted effort to serve the distinct needs of adults, postsecondary educators will not be supporting the academic success of their non-traditional students.

This is the conclusion of Jessica Fuda Daddio’s two-part series on improving adult student success in postsecondary education. In the first part, Daddio outlined a number of strategies instructors could put into place to help integrate adult students into the classroom and to teach in ways that adults respond to. In this second installment, she outlines a final strategy and presents her final assessment on the topic.

Reflection and Inquiry

What does reflection and inquiry really mean? Reflection is the idea of thought. Which in turn means an expectation to critically think through a situation connecting what is already known to the theory of that knowledge against the research.[1] Inquiry is the idea of exploration combined with reflection, which is compared to new knowledge and experiences.

Reflection and inquiry are not easily achieved or accomplished for some because it takes more than just writing what research says. It takes thought and internal consideration of the words of other researchers as well as an internal look at what may be superficial knowledge. Therefore, an instructor needs to prompt thorough questioning that promotes more inquiry. These prompts need to be open-ended. So they would be “why” and “how” questions.

Further, when reading a student’s response or having an online conversation with students, instructors also need to critically think about the topic. Then they need to critically evaluate what a student is saying and must try to decipher what they are really trying to say. It is only through this process of critique and discussion that an instructor can appropriately prompt for deeper thinking.

Ramsey & Gabbard explained that instructors need to have an expertise and skill for asking questions.[2] Asking a simple question is not going to broaden the students’ depth of understanding. An instructor needs to know how to critically evaluate an answer and think about the missing pieces. Through this careful analysis, the instructor can formulate the question(s) that will help students think more critically and allow the student to reflect, reanalyze and reconfigure his or her original answer or assumption. This will successfully promote rigorous engagement with material in the online learning environment.

Going back to our earlier example on leadership theories (see the subsection “Direct Instruction”), now that I have given students a broad understanding of the concept, they can now begin to reflect and use inquiry to understand their own styles of leadership. This means that prompts need to be specific but open-ended. For example, I might give a hypothetical situation and ask students how they would respond as a leader but follow up by asking why; I could ask them what helped them make the decision.

To further the inquiry process, an assignment could be to interview an educational leader. The students would ask the leader questions about their style of leadership and why they use those strategies. The students would have the leader share situations and decision they have made on the job. Students then can critically analyze these responses to find out what type of characteristics this leader has related to the leadership theories, and why and how they see the connections. As Dayaram & Issa explained, questioning one’s own reasoning and assumptions and then considering the thoughts of others creates a new depth in knowledge and broader understanding of the topic.[3] In essence, promoting rigorous understanding of the subject matter.


There are still skeptics out there when it comes to online learning and teaching, but the power lies within the instructor and the reflective philosophy that instructor possesses. Students that enter my classes know they will be held to a high standard where everything they do will end with a question from me to prompt for depth and clarity in their analyses. This is the challenge of teaching and learning whether face-to-face or  online. Students and instructors need to be held to these standards if we want to make a difference not only on student learning but society as a whole.

– – – –


[1] Hong, Q., Shihua, Y., & Honglin, C. (2010). Summary of development as a reflective practitioner. International Education Studies, 3(1), 126-129.

[2] Ramsey, I., & Gabbard, C. (1990). Questioning: An effective teaching method. Clearing House, 63(9), 420.

[3] Dayaram, K., & Issa, T. (2011). Reflective thinking: Learning to lead. International Journal Of Learning, 18(6), 83-95.

Author Perspective: