Back to
Wheaton College Center for Applied Christian Ethics CACE logo

David Shin

100x100 David ShinThe Art of a Good Question

Euntaek D. Shin, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Baylor University (Wheaton College Theology Faculty 2022-23)

Some of the nervousness concerning generative AI like ChatGPT goes something like this: if students use generative AI, they will lose the opportunity to acquire the skills learned while writing an essay, such as critical and creative thinking, cogent communication, etc. In other words, vital skills earned as part of a liberal arts education is lost. I wonder if there is an alternative way to reclaim some of the things lost in the process. What if we double down on the simple fact that (at least for now) it is human beings who insert the prompts and questions into chatbots? What if we shift the focus away from the end of the process, such as the exam or the essay, to the beginning, namely, forming good questions?

A good question accounts for the fact that human beings are contingent. We depend on and are bound to the concrete contexts in which we live. Unlike AI that works with set data, our contingency that unfolds within the domain of time grants the fear of uncertainty, the anticipation of serendipity, disappointment, frustration, and so on. Concrete life makes us wonder beyond the logical operations of deduction and induction (operations used by machine learning). Our curiosity leads us to experiment by connecting ideas in unexpected ways. A good question addresses the existential. All the while, a good question has an end in mind for living in that concrete context. As we aim for the formation of character and the understanding of truth, a good question draws the contingent agent toward the illumination of the mind and the heart.

The making of a good question is an art. Crafting a good question takes skill, time, and apprenticeship. A vital task of a teacher is to guide students not only in finding but also in seeking. Here we are more than experts in our disciplines. We are fellow human beings, ones who have been journeying through life’s purgatory. We have wisdom to offer—wisdom in the indicative and wisdom in the interrogative. We know what good questions are because we have asked dumb ones before. Unlike Chatbots quick to suggest follow up questions and prompts, we would be patient, while making room for experimentation, encouraging risks and even failure within healthy boundaries.

When students begin to craft good questions, they will realize that answers of generative AI are at best B quality. For the inquirer of a good question desires a good answer. A student figuring out how to approach a sibling with a mental health crisis or a friend who hates the church because of the church’s neglect of people with disability will thirst for better answers, answers that are more robust and more real. They will continue to ask, “But what about?”, or “But what if?” In that process, they grow to be critical, creative, and cogent in their thinking and communication.

A student once told me during office hours that she is afraid to express her thoughts in her essay because she knows of students who had been penalized for disagreeing with their professors. Whether that rumor has any validity, it is a glimpse into how students approach their education. GPA rules the classroom, while curiosity is reserved for elsewhere like dorm room conversations and perhaps even conversations with AI. Teachers can guide students in forming good questions, only if the students would allow them to do so. Trust must be established, and trust comes with vulnerability. The art of a good question then begins with sharing our own lives, not just its milky side, but also the dark side that has led us to hate life and love life.  

Contact Us

Center for Applied Christian Ethics

117 Blanchard Hall
501 College Ave
Wheaton, IL 60187