Scenario-Based Homework Questions: Instructor Creativity Results in Student Creativity and Deeper Learning

Recently, Claire Hoogendoorn wrote about problem-focused activities in the classroom. The focus of this post is closely related to her insightful ideas. Scenario-based questions are homework or exam items that are based on real-life situations as opposed to abstract questions that pinpoint specific course content (e.g., terms, equations) without requiring students to link the content to its application. In my classrooms, they are effective due to the following reasons:

  • They’re more fun and interesting for the students to do.
  • Students’ answers to them are more fun and interesting for us as instructors to read.
  • Scenario-based questions are harder to plagiarize because they are creative in that they require more than a simple definition to answer them.
  • These items or questions require students to APPLY the concepts from your course instead of being satisfied with route memorization.
  • This question type leads to more critical thinking and active learning for students.

Below are a few scenario-based questions from my own courses that involve the above elements.

From Social Psychology:

Daniel is watching a television advertisement about a new brand of vitamins. He decides to buy them the next time he goes to the store because there’s a doctor and a professional athlete endorsing them in the advertisement so he figures it must be a great product. Which of the aspects of persuasion as discussed in class does his decision depend on? Defend your decision with a 3-5 sentence explanation.

From Statistics:

Scenario: An organization is interested in whether an employee’s job type (administrative assistant, salesperson, or research and development) impacts his or her perceptions of the organization’s culture.

Which is the dependent variable?
Which is the quasi-independent variable?
What is the alternative hypothesis in words?
What is the null hypothesis in words?

Run the appropriate statistical analysis in SPSS and highlight the relevant values on the output that should be used to answer the organization’s question. 

Explain the findings in a manner that a senior leader could understand who does not have expertise in statistics (Hint: Explain the results without statistical language or notation).

Now describe these results to a scientific audience that does have expertise in statistics (i.e., in APA style).

Try your own scenario-based questions in a few homework assignments to examine if your students seem to grasp the content better when they know they will be asked to apply the information they learn in novel ways. After they are used to the structure of such questions, you can begin to ask them to come up with similar question types themselves and answer these as an additional homework question at the end of an assignment. This will give them the opportunity to produce creative applications of your course content that are inspired by the world they experience around them.