Getting learners to AskUp: Enhancing education through learner-generated questions

Awardees: Jonathan Hausmann (HMS-BIDMC), Phil McGachey (CADM-HUIT), Sarah Schachman (College), Elliott Yates (CADM-HUIT), and Ziv Paz (HMS)

Summary: Awardees will develop an online platform – “AskUp” – using evidence-based techniques to facilitate and enhance learning through learner-generated questions.



Jonathan Hausmann, Phil McGachey, Sarah Schachman, Elliott Yates, and a team of Harvard College students developed AskUp, an application that allows learners to generate their own question and answer sets after an educational event (e.g., classroom lecture, reading assignment, online video, or patient encounter in the hospital).

AskUp requires learners to reflect about the event they experienced, identify important points, compare the new information to things they’ve learned in the past, and write it in their own words—metacognitive strategies proven to optimize learning. These learner-generated questions are shared with others participating in the same course, who benefit from a unique form of online peer-learning. Those that take the questions benefit from the “testing effect,” the finding that material is better learned if it is tested rather than simply read. AskUp is also instrumented to collect data about its use, student behavior, and how many questions are created and answered.

This project, a joint venture between investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and engineers in the Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) program, leveraged the use of a preexisting TLT student development network for the creation of the app. Throughout the project, these students advanced their skills in collaboration, peer review, and coding while increasing connections across schools and obtaining valuable mentorship.

A pilot study analyzed the study strategies that medical students use to study for class exams and collected data that was used to inform the design of AskUp. Dr. Hausmann is now collaborating with the Medical School to design a randomized study to assess the impact of AskUp on student exam scores, curiosity, self-efficacy, and self-directed learning. He is also writing a paper for publication about strategies to enhance learning through the use of better questions. Dr. Hausmann has presented his findings in various workshops to Harvard-affiliated hospitals on how asking questions can enhance learning.

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