Wednesday 9 January 2013

The fear of asking questions. 
One of the many challenges preventing the bulk of Nigerian geoscience students from understanding geoscientific concepts is their inability to ask questions during classes.

Students are unable to ask questions in class for various reasons. These reasons  include the fear of coming across as arrogant to the lecturer and risk being tagged an "I too know (I.T.K)", as well as the fear of being perceived as dull by other students in the class who are not asking questions. In some cases, the students are just simply too confused about the topic being taught to even know which question to ask.

Being unable to ask questions during class is a challenge I personally battled with for the major part of my undergraduate education. For me, it was the fear of coming off as a proud or arrogant student to the lecturer. This fear started from before I gained admission into the university. I had heard several stories of some lecturers in Nigerian universities who would get extremely embarrassed and offended when their students ask them questions they could not answer, and may eventually regard the inquisitive student as "an enemy". Such stories have probably contributed substantially to the fear of asking questions in class by many students and consequently led to failure of many students in Nigerian universities.

However, in order to weather the challenge, I spent extra time in the library and browsing the  internet in order to learn more and find answers to the many questions I had on the topics I was taught in class. Finally, in my final year, assured that I had built my grade point to a level that no lecturer could pull it down below "comfort zone", I became bolder and began to ask my lecturers question in class.

Surprisingly, it produced amazing results. I began to learn more and understand better, as my questions turned the lecture classes into interesting discussions. I could remember one of the classes in which the lecturer gave some tips beyond the scope of the lecture at the time, which broadened my understanding of the tectonic evolution of the African plate. These tips were never stated in class notes, yet they remained entrenched in my mind up to this day.

As opined by Blosser (1990), if one of the objectives of scientific knowledge impartation is the development of higher level thinking processes in students, how else can this goal be achieved without intensive communication between the teachers and students involved? And how better can this communication grow between a teacher and a student without at least one of the two parties asking relevant questions?

Arthurs (2011) highlighted the propensity of students to develop alternate conceptions, misconceptions and even their own personalised but incorrect cognitive models of geoscience concepts. This will definitely be typical of a teacher-dominated geoscience class.

Therefore, if Nigerian geoscience teachers expect their students to develop into independent scientific thinkers and future problem solvers, they must begin to provide opportunities during their lectures that allow for greater student involvement and less teacher domination of the learning process. With this in place, it'll be easier for them to identify the various misconceptions and difficulties their students are having with understanding the topics and concepts being taught in class.

1. Arthurs, L. (2011). What college-level students think: Student alternate conceptions and their cognitive models of geoscience concepts. Geol. Soc. of America Special Papers, v.474. Pp.135-152.

2. Blosser, E. P. (1990). Using questions in science classrooms. Research Matters - to the science teacher. NARST. No.9001.


  1. i also had a phobia for asking questions for all the above mentioned reason and because i was shy.however i noticed that my discomfort with asking questions reduced depending on the lecturer and how receptive he/she was to questions generally. another factor that encouraged me was the size of my classes (i schooled in Ghana).
    however when i went for my masters degree in the UK i was made to feel comfortable, and was told that any question stupid or retarded was
    concerning the fear that the lecturer may not be able to answer questions asked, it seemed to me like my british lecturers had some special skill to go around questions they cld not most of them either opened the question to the class or turn it around on u and encourage u to think critically. im sure there were other tactics used but we were all hoodwinked or so occupied with trying to think "critically" or be the first to find an answer to the question.

    i think with smaller classes and an encouraging lecturer, students will be more inclined to ask questions.

    1. Thanks for the response's quite fascinating and amusing to know that some UK lecturers had developed smart ways of managing difficult questions asked by their students in class...I guess it is healthier than revenging by marking the student down. I also agree with your conclusion that smaller classes + an encouraging lecturer will promote more student-lecturer interaction.

  2. Nice article, I faced the same thing too, let me just confess here, I didn't ask any question in the class when I was an undergraduate, just because of what my lecturer usually says, 'pls don't ask me foolish questions'. I just decided not to ask any question, I read on my own, and ask any of man senior colleague in the department

    1. @Seun Olaleye...thanks for being sincere...your lecturer's attitude was just typical of many teachers.Geoscience teaching will be greatlt improved in Nigeria if the attitude of teachers permit students to freely ask questions in class.


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