Looking for some new ideas for classroom discussion?
Seeking an idea for an online discussion?
What about a guide for setting norms/expectations related to discussion practices?
We have identified some resources to help you think through these questions.
Tips for the new teacher
Are you unsure of the role that discussion should play in your class? This guide by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Guidelines for Classroom Interactions, frames the discussion, first and foremost, as an exercise in knowing how your course goals align to the discussion as a lens for knowing and learning.
Classroom teachers looking for a quick, digital resource, the IDEA paper Effective Classroom Discussions covers expectation-setting, teacher roles, and student roles, in an attractive and chunked layout. Useful when planning for a future course.
Tips for the online teacher
If you teach online and are looking for ideas on how to maximize engagement in online discussions, Kreiger, Lee, and Zolkover, instructional designers at Penn State, recently presented on this topic at the 2021 CanvasCon conference. In their presentation Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions, they share information for new online teachers. They suggest that faculty write out their responses to these 5 steps, prior to posting them to the LMS:
- What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
- How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
- How should they proceed? Write out, 1-2-3, what they are to do. Since online students typically have to wait longer for a response, they advise that you “build in” the help. See the course from their eyes.
- Clarify grading. Provide some clarity on how they are graded, and remember that in Canvas, discussions can be high-stakes (with a point value or rubric) or low-stakes (with a complete/incomplete checkmark).
- Scaffold the responses. Let them know how the response “flow” should work. Are you wanting them to respond to others? (remember that this can require students to log in frequently, just to see if a response has been posted). Or do you want a rotating moderator to collect all responses, and summarize and present those to the class?
All of this information, now typed and on-screen, is tidy and structured for copy-paste into the Canvas LMS discussion rich content editor – so students will then know the big picture, and all the details, associated with the discussion.
Another helpful resource is the book Engaging the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson. The book frames the discussion as a small component of online engagement. Faculty will enjoy the foundational frame and theory the authors provide (constructivist and problem-based). You will not only see online classes in a new light but you will also be provided dozens of discussion-based activities and icebreakers that stem from the theory. Grab and use! One of our favorite texts!. The library has a copy; you can search for the call numbers here.
Tips for facilitating challenging classroom conversations
Many university teaching and learning centers provide guidance for handling challenging or controversial subjects. One of our favorites is the tips provided by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, Difficult Dialogues, as they don’t just discuss procedures for handling the challenging topic (helpful as that is). Rather, following a discussion they integrate activities for gauging student understanding that is writing- and reflection-based.
In summary, there are a lot of resources to help inspire new and innovative ideas and thinking for both the new and experienced instructor, whether teaching face-to-face or online.
Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Vol. 38). John Wiley & Sons.
Lee, L., Krieger, J. M., and Adam D. Zolkover. (2021). L. Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions. [Video]. InstructureCon. https://www.instructure.com/canvas/resources/instructurecon-2021/change-the-prompt-not-the-tool-developing-effective-discussions#main-content