Student-content interactions in online courses: the role of question prompts in facilitating higher-level engagement with course content

  • Peggy A. ErtmerEmail author
  • Ayesha Sadaf
  • David J. Ertmer


This study examined the relationships among question types and levels and students’ subsequent responses/interactions in online discussion forums. Question prompts were classified both by type, as outlined by Andrews (POD Q J Prof Organ Dev Net Higher Eduction 2(34):129–163, 1980), and by levels of critical thinking, as outlined by Bloom (Taxonomy of educational objectives, David McKay, New York, 1956). Students’ responses (n = 850), taken from 19 discussion forums, were coded using Bloom’s six levels of cognitive processing: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Interaction patterns were determined using three of Andrews’ “mileage” indicators: average number of responses/student, average number of student–student sequences per question prompt, and average number of threads (and posts within a thread) for each question prompt. Results support the hypothesis that questions at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy facilitate higher levels of students’ responses. Among Andrews’ nine question types, lower divergent questions were most effective in generating high levels of student thinking compared to other question types. In terms of interaction patterns, brainstorming and playground questions averaged the highest number of posts/student as well as highest average number of student responses/prompt. Questions at the comprehension, application, and synthesis levels resulted in the highest average number of student–student sequences. Implications for the development of effective question prompts are discussed.


Online discussions Question prompts Student-content interaction 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peggy A. Ertmer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ayesha Sadaf
    • 1
  • David J. Ertmer
    • 2
  1. 1.Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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