Improving Q&As with peer-review

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But what’s the point of Academia if there’s no dick waving?

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Dude here. I resent that! :wink: 'Cos I spend most of the time at a talk thinking of a cool question that makes me look good then wuss out of asking it…

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Q&As are usually so awful that I just walk out once the lecture/reading/movie is done. But I’ll stay if questions are submitted in writing.

If questions are in writing and handled by a moderator, multiple similar/identical questions can be merged or skipped (they won’t be if spoken!), poorly worded questions can be improved (but writing already will improve the quality of the thought and construction), dumb questions (and “questions”) can be dropped.

I was actually first exposed to the idea in college, when I took a class from a deaf professor. The professor would stop the lecture at intervals and we would pass up 3x5" index cards if we had a question. The quality of student-teacher interaction was so much better in that class than any other I never understood why every other professor at the university hasn’t picked it up.


Relax… as an academic, I can promise you, there is plenty of dick waving, largely through the process of peer review!

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This seems to be a really good way of doing questions, with a number of advantages:

  • Getting people to write out questions allows people to gather their thoughts and gives a fair chance to people who are less confident at impromptu speaking to a large audience.
  • Removing names from the questions gets rid of the ability to grandstand regardless of the identity of the self-publicist.
  • You get to see all the questions that people wanted to ask, which is valuable, even if you don’t get to all of them. Is there a common question that could be better addressed in future versions of the talk? Are there areas where people aren’t picking up your meaning?

The disadvantage of this method is that it allows the moderator to drop tricky questions, so it wouldn’t be useful when the speaker is a politician or the like.


The best approach I ever saw to generating good Q & A questions was done by Dylan Wiliams at an American Educational Research Association conference. The format was a panel discussion. Each of the 5 panelist gave a short presentation. After that, as they were setting up for the panel, he gave the audience 5 minutes and asked them to turn to your neighbor and discuss your possible questions.

I thought it was brilliant. Using actual teaching techniques when doing a presentation.


Only yes/no questions go up at the end though

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