Let’s Discuss Class Discussions
Whether we teach online or in-person, we know the value that stimulating classroom discussions can have on student learning. It is an opportunity for students to practice concepts, get clarification and apply new ideas. Getting discussions started and maintaining momentum can be a challenge. We might also have a core group of students who are vocal and others who sit back and watch. Leading classroom discussions is a dynamic art–the challenges, tools and students are always changing.
Here are some common challenges faculty face in discussions with some helpful resources:
♦ Getting students off the stage:
We have to work constructively with these eager students who may intimidate others with their ideas and enthusiasm. We don’t want to shut he student down, but instead help channel their participation.
- Appalachian State University has ideas of how to work with Students-Who-Interrupt-or-Dominate-the-Discussion.
- Education space 360 offers tactful approaches for vocal students.
♦ Get students off the sidelines:
Students may be quiet in class for a variety of reasons–fear, lack of preparation, etc. Understanding the reason may help find an appropriate solution for moving the student forward.
- The University of California at Berkley’s Center for Teaching and Learning has many ideas for getting students to participate.
- Catherine Savini at Westfield State has ideas for moving students from non-participating to active participants in class.
♦ Writing useful and engaging discussion questions:
We might be able to have spontaneous discussions in class–especially for topics that engender passion. But, discussion questions which help students achieve course competencies can also be prepared in advance.
- Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford provides a primer on Designing Effective Discussion Questions. These tips are applicable for both online discussion and in-person discussions.
- Washington University in St Louis has a virtual treasure trove for class discussions at their site, Increasing Student Participation.
♦ A special note about online classes and the value of discussions:
Discussions take on a heightened level of importance in many online classes. Discussion activities can help students feel connected to their classmates and instructor. Students often report higher levels of engagement with the material and the course itself. Ultimately, these feelings may lead to greater motivation and course success. This short article from Jennifer Freeman at UT TeleCampus, Using Discussions in Online Courses: The Importance of Interactivity, gives online discussions their due and provides practical ideas instructors.