Student-Defined Questions in Large Courses (online)

Active learning

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Using Student-Defined Questions activity to facilitate critical thinking in a large online classes
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Medium


Student-Defined Questions have students individually reflect on a reading assignment, lectures, or presentation. Before class, students write a question based on that content and write a model answer for it. In class, student pairs exchange questions and write a response to the partner’s question. They trade, read, and compare answers. In large courses (150 +) it can be difficult to facilitate active learning. This document walks you through the steps of planning and implementing this approach in your large course.

Example: Asking students to write one exam question and answer based on the lecture content just covered. If the question is a multiple-choice question, students should provide a set of choices for their answers. Students share their questions and answers with a small group that reviews the answer to each question. One question from each group is submitted for your consideration of being used in a quiz or exam.


Use it when you want...

  • To have students practice identifying important features of course content,
  • To formulate questions and answers, review responses given by others, or
  • To give students a chance to rehearse responses to questions and examine sample responses outside of a formal testing environment.

What students will need


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate Student-Defined Questions learning activity in large courses within an online learning environment.


  • Formulating a good question is a difficult task and one with which students are often unfamiliar. This activity will work best when you have spent some time teaching students how to formulate valid questions and answers.
  • Prepare guidelines, sample questions, and responses that model the level of complexity and depth you expect.
  • Create an online assignment that asks students to reflect on a learning activity (e.g., reading an article, listening to a lecture, watching a film), formulate an essay question and model a response to the question, and submit it to the instructor.
  • Create a Canvas Group Set for the activity. Create groups so they have between 10-15 students in each group.
  • Create a Canvas Group Discussion topic. Add the guidelines, and your sample question/response in the discussion description.
  • Create a Canvas Group Assignment in which the final question will be submitted.

Creating a Group Set in Canvas

  • Select People from the course navigation.
  • Select + Group Set for the assignment(s) you will create.
  • Provide a descriptive name in the Group Set Name box (ex. Student-Created Questions).
  • In the Group Structure section, select the Split students into ___ groups option. Enter a number that ensures there will be between 10-15 students per group. (ex. 200 student class 18-20 groups). 
  • Select Save.

Creating group discussion activities in Canvas

  • Select Discussions from the course navigation.
  • Select + Discussion.
  • Provide a title for the activity (ex. Student-Created Questions).
  • Provide a description and directions for the activity. Include an example question/answer. Provide guidelines for reviewing and selecting a question to be submitted by the group.
  • Under Post to, select which section(s) the activity is to be released.
  • Under Options, select Allow threaded replies, Users must post before seeing replies, and Allow liking. Under Allow liking, select Sort by likes.
  • Under Group Discussion, select the This is a Group Discussion box.
  • Provide a start date and time for the assignment under the Available From box
  • Provide an end date and time for the assignment under the Until box.
  • Select Save & Publish.

Creating a group assignment in Canvas

  • Select Assignments from the course navigation.
  • Select + Assignment.
  • Provide a title for the activity (ex. Student-Created Question Submission).
  • Provide a description and directions for the assignment.
  • Specify the points to be assigned in the Points box.
  • Specify the way students will submit the assignment (ex. Online and Text Entry) in the Submission Type box.
  • Specify Unlimited in the Allowed Attempts box.
  • Select This is a Group Assignment from the Group Assignment section. Select the Group Set that you created for the assignment (ex. Student-Created Questions).
  • Provide a start date and time for the assignment under the Available From box
  • Provide an end date and time for the assignment under the Until box.
  • Select Save & Publish.

Online (Synchronous)

  • Direct students to the group discussion.
  • Students post their questions/answers. Provide a deadline for submissions. 
  • After submissions, group members review and rate the questions/answers using the Like option.
  • The group confirms the accuracy of the answers and selects one to represent the group.
  • The selected question/answer is submitted through the Assignments tool.


  • Review the submissions and provide feedback on the quality and accuracy of questions/answers. 
  • Select one or more questions from the submission for inclusion in a quiz or exam.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • Be aware that some students might not have the bandwidth to participate in synchronous sessions. Make sure students turn off their cameras to reduce bandwidth. Students can also use the dial-in phone connection for audio, instead of their network connection.
  • The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.

Technical Documents

  • None


Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 302-306.

Keywordsexam questions, students, large courses, onlineDoc ID104796
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-08-10 09:34 CSTUpdated2023-04-13 09:48 CST
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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