Questions and the First Order of Things

Posted: January 22, 2009 in Questions, Readings, School
Tags: , , ,

So I’ve started researching on my own. This is the first time I’ve really had this kind of freedom. I imagine it won’t last forever, but for now all I have is a general topic: question and answer. Specifically as it relates to the internet. But I started looking, and I’ve found a few articles.  So far I’ve read two: “Questions and Question Asking in Verbal Discourse: a Cross-Disciplinary Review” by Greg P. Kearsley, and “Beyond student perceptions: issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course” by Anthony G. Picciano.

I’ve also started reading Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

First, Kearsley’s article in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research (Vol 5, No 4, 1976). It’s a very interesting article. I never really thought about questions before. Never considered the types, and certainly never tried to form a taxonomic scheme, all of which Kearsley does.  He differentiates between closed questions (disjunctive or whether) and open questions. As he writes, “Open questions are always formed by the use of the wh-constructions and hence are also called wh-questions” (358). wh-questions being, as far as I understand, who/what/where/when/why etc.

Kearsley goes on to further separate types of questions, mentioning echoic questions (which “are often paraphrases of the original question rather than literal repetitions” (360)), Epistemic (knowledge-gaining) questions, Evaluative (checking knowledge) questions, etc. He also talks about questions that don’t focus on information, but rather are social niceties to prevent long gaps in conversation (362-3).

Overall, this article was fascinating because of the ways it made me look at questioning as a whole. Kearsley writes “question asking must be viewed as a social activity as well as a cognitive one an approached from a sociolinguistic perspective” (366), which I think is particularly relevant to what I’m trying to research. When developing a rhetoric of Q&A (or even just understanding one) it does seem important to keep in mind the social aspects of it all.

Moving on to Picciano’s article from JALN (Vol 6, Issue 1 2002). This article primarily talks about the effects of participation in online courses. What I found particularly interesting was that “while the high ineratction students achieved the highest performance, the low interaction group performed higher than did the moderate interaction group” (23), meaning that the people who didn’t participate very much did better in the class than those who participated some but not a lot.

That’s very interesting, and contrary to what I would expect. I would think that the more interaction, the better the student performs. That seems like a pretty standard assumption, and the reason why so many professors require a certain amount of participation in class blogs, discussion boards, and so on.

But Picciano is suggesting that sometimes the lurkers, those who sit back and don’t participate as much, are still very active learners. He says that we must understand “that presence in an online course is fundamentally a social phenomenon and manifests itself through interactions among students and instructors” (24) but even still, sometimes the wall flowers get more out of the interaction than those who are only half participating.

Other interesting details include that those with low or moderate social presence did better on the exams than those with high presence, but on the writing assignment, the more presence the better the grade (31). The first part of this seems strange, but the second makes sense.

Overall, this article has mainly given me things to consider and to wonder about. I like that.

On to Foucault. I’ve only just started the book; I’m finished the first two chapters and that’s all. There will be more review of it as I go, but there is one particular thing that I wanted to commit to blog.

In the Preface, Foucault writes that “this archaeological inquire has revealed two great discontinuities in the episteme of Western culture: the first inaugurates the Classical age (roughly half-way through the seventeenth century) and the second, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, marks the beginning of the modern age” (xxii).

I think he is referring to specific people, and possibly even to specific works. I believe that the first discontinuity is a reference to Rene Descartes, particularly his 6 meditations, published in 1641. This was a major shift in the flow of philosophy, and of thought in general. It was the first time anyone had sought out certain knowledge beyond what the empirical world presented (at least, in philosophy). Philosophy can easily be broken into the period following Aristotle, the period following Descartes, and the period following the other person I think Foucault is referencing: Kant.

I think the second discontinuity is Immanuel Kant, specifically Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Kant began to focus on humanity, on people. Specifically, it can be argued that Kant is the beginning of an ethics that is not based on God, but rather on people. While in a lot of ways Kant is responding to Descartes, ethical philosophy takes a real turn here, and much of philosophy since has been responding in some way or another to Kant.

So I think that’s what Foucault is suggesting. The shift in thought boiled down to two people: Descartes and Kant.

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