We have a forum in which students can ask questions about the course material, homework exercises, etc. Usually I answer all the questions. I want to encourage students to answer some questions too.

One option is to give some bonus points in the final exam to students who answer a substantial number of questions. Another option is to create a reputation scheme like in stackexchange, and give bonus points to the three students with the highest reputation at the end of the term.

The problem is that these two schemes are manipulable: two students can conspire to have student A ask questions and student B immediately answer them, and vice versa.

Is there a better way to encourage students to answer their peers' questions?

3 Answers 3


My classes have a similar online forum (Piazza).

The best way I’ve found to encourage student participation is to have an explicit policy, published in the course syllabus, that the TAs and I will not answer any question about course content in less than four hours. Not “may not”, but “will not”. (Questions about course administration or potential errors in lectures/notes/homework/labs/exams/solutions are exempt; we answer those as fast as we can. We also try to upvote good student answers on course content quickly.)

I also offer extra credit for especially helpful questions or answers. (Notice I said “helpful”, not “numerous”; it’s important to reward quality, not quantity.) But I have the sense that this helps considerably less than just getting out of the way.

It’s also important to encourage a supportive and collaborative environment elsewhere in the class. So among other things, I encourage students to work together: in small teams (up to 3) to write homework, in larger groups in discussion sections, and with whatever groups they want to figure out the homework, study for exams, and so on. (Homework teams that work together are still required to write solutions independently, and they are required to cite each other.) So students are already used to helping each other offline.


I used to have a course mailing list that subscribed every student in the class. Students were permitted to ask and answer any question on the list at any time. I encouraged people to help one another using this list.

The list was used quite a lot by people when they were doing their homework, and they wanted quick answers. I would try not to answer immediately so that students would have a chance to chime in. With such a list, you can even respond to a question by asking for answers from anybody monitoring the list.

I learned over time that about half of the answers came from me and also that I would have to occasionally issue a correction to an incorrect answer. I might also comment on the excellence of a post if appropriate.

Basically, it just worked. I didn't have to offer points and such to encourage participation.

However, you will find that most of those giving answers are the same people. I think it is harder to get some people to participate. Participation was far from uniform.

One advantage of such a list is that even if you, the student, didn't ask a question yourself, you get to read it and one or more answers. And another advantage is that students don't get stuck between class meetings and stop progress when they could have been learning. People could work in the middle of he night and still get questions answered in a timely way.

This has a different dynamic from asking for solutions in a face to face situation. However, I think you will find that it is the same people willing to answer, rather than a uniform spread of participants.

If you want something that will encourage wider participation during class time, make sure that every student has a few index cards at all times. When a question is asked, ask the class as a whole to write a hint for the answer on an index card. Collect and scan these, picking out one of the good answers to read. You can make it anonymous or not. But note that it takes some time to do this so it works best with small groups and flipped classrooms where participation is the main goal of the face to face sections.

I've found in general that index cards have so many uses in teaching that I basically required their use; note taking, for example.


Weight the score by the answers to different students:

so if student A has answered 10 questions from student B then

10* 1 = 10

But if student C has also answered 10 questions but to 5 different students then

10 * 5 = 50

Which would help mitigate the "tricking" you describe...

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