It is important for us to learn that the solutions we seek lie behind doors which remain forever closed unless opened by the right questions.
— Marilee Goldberg in The Art of the Question (John Wiley and Sons, 1998)
I cannot help but ask questions; they define me, inspire me, and motivate me. They feed my curiosity and creativity, my love for science and the unknown. They lend me focus and perspective while they create possibility. Questions drive me as a person, a scholar, a scientist, and as a faculty consultant. But, in contrast to Golberg’s sentiment, what I seek behind closed doors is not solutions. I seek better questions: questions that make me, the students I teach, and the faculty I work with better simply by asking them; questions that prompt each of us to “change the way we think, act, or feel.”*
As a teacher, I ask myself questions like, “How can I help students begin to understand what it means to think within a discipline, as a scientist in general and as a chemist in particular? How do I encourage them to take interest in and get excited about a topic sometimes far removed from their academic passions? How do I help them understand how chemistry affects their private and public lives and help them make connections between chemistry and their other academic interests? How do I encourage them to continue learning about the subject long after the course is over?” Why I teach and how I go about it are intimately tied to these questions. They define what I do in the classroom, how I interact with students and the myriad ways in which I support student learning.
The faculty consultant in me asks, “How can I help instructors improve the learning environments of their courses? How can I excite and motivate them to invest precious time and energy to do so? How can I encourage them to take a more scholarly approach to teaching, one that is evidence-based and that promotes continuous improvement? How can I persuade them to break down walls which often surround the private enterprise of teaching and make themselves vulnerable to self-reflection and peer critique?” These questions shape the workshops I design and implement, the consultations I conduct, the programs I administer and the committees I serve. Most importantly, they implicitly offer instructors I work with the possibility to discover their own questions, to peek behind closed doors and allow us to explore answers together. Their questions provide opportunities for change, opportunities to help them flourish as scholars, teachers and individuals.
*Ken Bain in What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard University Press, 2004).