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Online Q & A: What’s your question?


What do you do when you need to find an answer? According to a recent article by Gina Schreck the answer to this question is changing. We've moved from looking things up in books, to searching for them on Google, to reaching out to social networks for responses to our questions. Social networking tools, like Facebook and LinkedIn, make it easy for us to poll our friends and connections for input on a wide variety of issues.

Question and Answer Forums are becoming popular as an avenue for us to reach out to a growing number of people, both in and out of out networks. These tools can be used to seek out expertise and guidance on topics related to your coursework, career planning, and online learning experience. The thing that sets these forums apart from just doing an Internet search is the approach. When you use a search engine to find information, the response is quick and generated from an index of information stored about individual websites. With a Question and Answer Forum, the response is delayed, but is returned by people who have some knowledge or expertise in the area of your question.

This post explores several online Question and Answer Forums. There are many more available and new systems are likely on the horizon. As you review the various functions and features of the forums, consider how this type of tool may be helpful as a new resource in your online student toolkit!

A Few Forums

Answers.com

Answers.com is a collection of multiple search tools that address a wide variety of questions ranging in topic from Animal Life to Travel and Places. Take a look at the Jobs and Education category for relevant questions and answers. You might also want to try the Reference Library for general category searches based on the system's database of materials and answers.

Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange brings together multiple question and answer forums (currently over 50) to create a larger, more diverse community to address your questions. Review their network list to see the individual sources that are connected, with links and statistics about the use of each one. Many of the networked forums are centered on technology, but you might also like one that specifically responds to questions about English Language and Usage

LinkedIn Answers

I've mentioned LinkedIn in several previous posts and referenced the many features of this social network for professionals. Because of the professional nature and focus of this network, the question and answer forum is more predominantly work related. You can view questions posed by other members of your network and browse by career field. This forum provides an interesting look at current issues in various career fields, employment insights, and some collaborative problem solving.

Quora 

Perhaps one of the most recent question and answer forums, Quora is striving to develop thorough references out of the question and answer pages. While it is still new, and there may not be as many contributors as the other systems, Quora is gaining popularity because of the collaborative nature of the answer format and the ability to edit.

And many more… You'll find a seemingly endless list of forums online. Many are more general in scope, such as Yahoo Answers. Others are much more specific in the types of questions and subject matter covered. Find question and answer forums that focus on your specific area of interest, such as technology (IT Knowledge Exchange), business (Sprouter), and education (JustAsk).

Considerations for Online Students

Question and Answer Forums offer one more way to research topics that are of interest to you and explore new perspectives. Let's take a closer look at some of the benefits of using this format, potential problems to be aware of, and guidelines for use.

Benefits

  • It's ok to just listen. As an online student you can "listen in" on the forums. Find out where professionals in your field of study are hanging out and read the questions they ask each other as well as the answers provided. There is a lot to be learned from their collective experience!
  • Increase your PLN! Through participation in and review of these forums you may be able to identify professionals in your field of study that you could add to your Personal Learning Network through social networking sites or by following their blogs or Twitter accounts.

Concerns

  • Who is answering? There are a lot of reasons why someone would respond to online question forums among them to develop reputation as an expert or authority in a field or draw attention to a company's product or services. If you find an interesting answer, review the respondent's profile for more information about his or her expertise in the area of the question.
  • Conflicting responses. Experts don't always agree. Take the time to review all of the responses to a question and further research the answers provided. Often a question and answer format is most helpful for generating ideas and as a starting point for finding out more.

Guidelines

  • Explore the features of the forums. Many of these sites offer different ways to search archived questions to find the information you need.
  • Evaluate the responses. Moderation helps to keep the forums free from abusive or inappropriate language, but not all forums are doing this. Make sure you evaluate the forum itself as a source of information.
  • User feedback. This is another way to evaluate a site. Look for a system of user feedback through ratings, likes/dislikes, or votes. In this way, others reviewing the questions and answers can provide a sort of endorsement.
  • Follow a question. Several of the forums allow you to subscribe to or follow an individual question so that you continue to receive notifications of additional comments or responses after you leave the site. Consider following the questions that you find to be the most interesting.

Question and Answer Forums are a great way to access not only information, but also expertise. It's easy to get distracted by the variety of questions and find yourself quickly off topic. Stay focused and bookmark the forums that are the most interesting and helpful to you as you move forward toward your educational and career goals. Use question and answer forums as a place to start, as a source of ideas to lead you to further reading and research.

May 25th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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