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
Guest Blogger ~ Dr. April Talent
Whether you’re teaching an Honors Section of a course, working with an Honors Student one-on-one through an Honors Contract, or just thinking about how to keep your Honors Students motivated in a regular class, studio, or lab, there are a variety of resources available with ideas for faculty on boosting learning outcomes for Honors Students.
This short article from the University Honors Program at Kansas University describes moving learning outcomes up to the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy in which learning goals are aimed at synthesis, evaluation, integration, and creation. These higher levels of critical thinking are key to inspiring Honors Students in their studies. They create modes of learning that challenge motivated students in creative ways that go beyond just doing more.
This paper (access provided through Hunter Library), written by faculty in The Netherlands, looks at instructional factors and how those strategies challenged their high-ability students. In their conclusions, they affirm that the combination of student autonomy, complexity, and teacher expectations come together to be effective in keeping these students motivated and challenged and ultimately improving outcomes. These factors further underscore the value of establishing learning outcomes for Honors Students that are at the highest levels of critical thinking in terms of course learning goals.
The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt has a useful summary of Bloom’s Taxonomy on their website. This is a quick resource that summarizes the action verbs that are aligned with the different processes of learning, e.g. planning, producing, generating, checking, critiquing, attributing, organizing, and differentiating, corresponding to critical thinking at the highest levels of Analysis, Evaluation, and Creation.
References and Resources
Armstrong, P. (n.d.) Bloom’s taxonomy. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/
Scager, K., Akkerman, S. F., Pilot, A., & Wubbels, T. (2013). How to persuade honors students to go the extra mile: creating a challenging learning environment. High Ability Studies, 24(2), 115–134. https://doi-org.proxy195.nclive.org/10.1080/13598139.2013.841092
Teaching honors students. (n.d.). The University of Kansas Honors Program. Retrieved January 23, 2020, from https://honors.ku.edu/teaching-honors-courses
The mere phrase elicits dread in the heart of almost high performing college student and many time spells frustration for the faculty who know its potential benefits but wonder why it is so hard to get this important teaching tool to work right.
Professor Emeritus, Parks and Recreation Management
Dr. Maurice Phipps, faculty emeritus for Western Carolina University has developed a guidebook for teachers and students to rediscover the value and the joy of cooperative learning.
“Cooperative Learning is a highly effective method of instruction and students trained in effective group skills are valued in the workplace but groups can be dreaded without some assurance that group skills and group processing are properly taught and applied.” – Maurice Phipps
He has simplified the challenge of group work by using the five elements of Cooperative Learning, which he says must all be present in order for students to form a high performing cooperative learning community. He breaks down group work into concepts, skills and roles, and tactics and strategies.
What does cooperative learning look like?
- Positive interdependence (ways to ensure students work together)
- Individual accountability (making sure all students are learning)
- Face-to-face interaction (many ways to interact)
- Interpersonal and small-group skills (to enable effective group functioning)
The Group Book
Dr. Phipps cowrote and published The Group Book: Effective Skills for Cooperative Groups as a reference manual for teachers and students to use in bringing together the necessary pieces.
Faculty can use it as a workbook for students (e.g. study p.5-10 and come into class prepared to practice the skill).
Or they can review it themselves and deploy the strategies as needed.
Some teachers give it to students to help them take ownership of their group learning and solve the kinds of 21st century problems they will encounter throughout the rest of their life.
- Faculty who want to use this, do it because they want their students to learn soft skills (that combine with technical skills) for student success.
- Compared with other dynamic group learning methods (e.g. team-based learning), cooperative learning is flexible and adaptable to any learning environment.
- The only way to enable high-functioning student groups in your classroom is to equip students with group processing and group skills while setting a context for them to succeed.
Want to learn more?
- Read more about Cooperative Learning using the resources below.
- Keep an eye out for upcoming events hosted by the CFC for Excellence in Teaching and Learning that may include a workshop hosted by Dr. Phipps on the art of facilitating group work.
- Dr Phipps is also hosting a regular faculty discussion for WCU faculty on the benefits, challenges, and strategies of group work. Please send him a message for more details.
- Schedule an appointment with one of our educational developers to see how you can implement this unique learning design.
- Don’t forget to pick up a copy of “The Group Book: Effective Skills for Cooperative Groups” online or at the Coulter Faculty Commons for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
The Hunter Library VR room serves as a place for you and your students to explore virtual reality.
Before making an assignment, lab exercise, or project that requires students to use the library’s VR room, it will be helpful to know the following:
1) Contact the VR coordinator (Jill Ellern) for a tour and training.
Arrange for an appointment of at least 1-hour for your own VR experience in this space. This session will include how to use the system and what VR options are available for your students. You might need several sessions to completely explore and understand some of the more complex software titles.
2) There is a limited number of systems in the library.
There are 2 Oculus Rift stations and 2 HTC Vive stations. There is also a PlayStation VR system. There are also two Oculus Rift headsets, 2 Ricoh Theta 360 cameras and a GoPro available for 7-day checkout.
Points to keep in mind about this limitation:
- Not all software runs on both systems. This can further limit the number of stations available for an activity.
- Only one student can wear the system at a time. Large screen monitors allow others in the room to see what the headset wearer “sees,” but it is not the same experience as having the headset on.
- Anyone can book time in the VR room. Class assignments do have priority over other activities in scheduling, but your students will compete for time with other VR room scheduling requests. The room is available to reserve anytime the library is open.
- Consider using Google Cardboard as an option. While not as robust an option for a VR experience, it is a viable option for getting a 3D view. The equipment affordable for every student (under $20) and most students have a smartphone that is used to run the system. 360 videos and still images are openly available on the web or you can create these yourself using the library’s cameras, or your/your students’ smartphones. We currently have 7 available for checkout at the Circulation Desk.
Other ideas that might help with this limitation:
- Reserve Time: It is possible to reserve time at particular stations for a class and then “sublet” these times to a specific class roster. Talk to your library liaison or the VR coordinator (Jill Ellern) about how this works and about setting up this option for your class lab.
- Limitations: There are limitations to the amount of people that can be in the VR room at any one time. Consider creating small groups as viewing teams for VR assignments.
- Max Number: It is recommended that no more than 2-5 per station and no more than 15 students total in the VR room at one time.
- Groups: Students can then help each other with this technology as a group activity.
- Departmental Lab Assistant: A student assistant from your department can be useful for a large enrollment course with a VR assignment.
3) A small percentage of the population will have issues viewing/using this technology.
Some people will get dizzy, nauseated, or claustrophobic using this equipment. Consider having an alternative assignment for these students.
4) There is a learning curve for VR equipment.
While the library can provide some one-on-one or class training sessions, the room itself is not staffed. Most students will need help the first time they use the equipment. You will need to plan an introductory session or consider working with your department to provide a lab assistant to help.
5) The library is piloting a purchasing process for VR software.
Currently, the only titles available in the room are those free items that came with the technology. We are working on the process of faculty requests for specific VR titles. If you are interested in exploring additional software that will support your teaching and learning, Jill Ellern, VR Coordinator or your library liaison.
If you would like to learn more about the VR Room at Hunter Library, contact Jill Ellern, VR Coordinator. Students, faculty, and staff may reserve a VR station online.
A summer 2018 volume of New Directions for Teaching and Learning focuses on student engagement. Ten chapters worth!
One interesting chapter, Students Engaged in Learning, is worth a close read. (the link to the full article can be found at the bottom of this post). The authors, Emad Ismail and James Groccia, provide a compelling structure for the chapter.
The article is presented in this fashion—research findings related to engagement in the cognitive domain, followed by research on engagement in the psychomotor domain, and finally, of research literature pertaining to engagement in the affective domain. Several meta-analyses are cited. Rather than delve deeply into any single research article, I thought it might be more interesting to talk about the research he cites as part of each section (after all, you can read the full article yourself). The remainder of this post presents a short summary of the research he cites related to cognitive engagement:
Title:Teaching More by Lecturing Less
Findings Snippet: “The results we present here indicate that even a moderate shift toward more interactive and cooperative learning in class can result in significantly higher student learning gains than achieved using a standard lecture format.”
Authors: Knight and Wood
Title:Cooperative and Active Learning in Undergraduate Biological Laboratories at FIU– Implications to TA Teaching and Training
Findings Snippet: Teaching assistants underwent a 2-day training workshop to implement cooperative learning and active learning techniques for Biology courses, and the results were very positive. Responses from instructors indicate “an increase in the cognitive level of the material communicated, learned, and assessed”, in addition to “an increase in their [students’] ability to devise and practice scientific experimentation.”|
Authors: Penwell, Elsawa, and Pitzer
Title: Interactive-Engagement vs. Traditional Methods: A Six-Thousand-Student Survey of Mechanics Test Data for Introductory Physics Courses
Findings Snippet: “The conceptual and problem-solving test results strongly suggest that the classroom use of interactive-engagement methods can increase mechanics-course effectiveness well beyond that obtained in traditional practice.”
Title: Can Students Learn from Lecture Demonstrations?
Findings Snippet: “Students who had a chance to predict an outcome of a demonstration prior to seeing the demonstration achieved a significantly higher success rate of 25% to 35%.”
Authors: Milner-Bolton, Kotlicki, Rieger
Title:Keeping it Short and Sweet: Brief, Ungraded Writing Assignments Facilitate Learning
Findings Snippet: “These results suggest that in-class writing and discussion improved performance on factual and conceptual multiple-choice exam questions, beyond any gain from time for in-class thinking and discussion.”
Authors: Drabick, Weisberg, Paul, and Bubier
Discipline: Physical Chemistry
Title:“I Believe I Will Go Out of This Class Actually Knowing Something”: Cooperative Learning Activities in Physical Chemistry
Findings Snippet: “We found that cooperative learning activities move students away from rote learning strategies and toward more meaningful strategies which allowed them to integrate concepts over the entire semester.”
Authors: Towns, Grant
Discipline: Human Resource Management
Title:The Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT): An Innovative Teaching Technique for Human Resource Management Students
Findings Snippet: “…through the use of Team Based Learning and the incorporation of the IF-AT students’ skills in the areas of communication, overall learning, cognitive and interpersonal skills through the use of teams or groups of students was enhanced. Authors: Blackman, Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink
Title:Evaluating an Active Learning Approach to Teaching Introductory Statistics: A classroom workbook approach
Findings Snippet: “The activity based curriculum evaluated here produced significant positive changes in students’ attitudes toward statistics. Specifically, after experiencing the workbook curriculum students liked statistics more and were more confident in their ability to perform and understand statistics.”
Authors: Carlson and Winquist
Title:Effects of Small-Group Learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology: A Meta-Analysis
Findings Snippet: “The meta-analysis demonstrates that various forms of small-group learning are effective in promoting greater academic achievement, more favorable attitudes towards learning, and increased persistence….”
Authors: Springer, Stanne, and Donovan
Title:Active Learning Increases Student Performance In Science, Engineering, And Mathematics
Findings Snippet: A meta-analysis of 225 studies discovers that (on average, based on effect size) student performance on exams and concept inventories increased by .47 SDs when faculty utilized active learning strategies and methods (n=158 studies).
Authors: Freeman et al.
Discipline: Human Physiology
Title: The Effect of Active Learning on Student Characteristics in a Human Physiology Course for Nonmajors
Findings Snippet: “Students in a treatment group [taught using a continuum-based, actdive-learning model] acquired significantly more content knowledge and were significantly more efficacious than students in the control groups [taught using traditional didactic lecture methods].”
William Buskist, a co-editor in this volume, presents in a most familiar way the issue of student engagement that many of us are struggling with:
Are there universal principles of instilling student engagement that apply across students, disciplines, and institutional settings, and if so, what are they? Do these principles similarly or differentially affect the domains of doing, feeling, and thinking? Once students become engaged, what are the most effective methods of keeping them engaged throughout the remainder of their college careers in terms of doing, feeling, and thinking?
Thankfully, the research provided in this chapter illustrates that yes, universal principles do exist.
The full article is available here.
Icons courtesy of icons8.
A 2014 study by Mueller and Oppenheimer indicated that students who took notes in class with their computer performed more poorly than students who took notes by hand.
67 students participated in the research study, and students were asked to use their typical note-taking method (laptop or longhand) while watching a video. Although students who typed their notes on the computer were able to recall facts equally well (no statistical difference found), their performance on conceptual-application questions was significantly worse (M = -0.156).
A 2012 study by Aguilar-Roca, Williams, and O’Dowd of 400 students found a correlation between exam performance and note taking preference—those who took notes by paper scored significantly higher than those who took notes on a laptop (p < 0.01, paired t-test). And Kraushaar and Novak, in 2010, discovered that students with laptops engaged in substantial multitasking behavior about 42% of the time (defined as surfing, entertainment, email, instant messaging, and updating computer software).
So what does this mean for us as faculty? Does this suggest we ban laptops overnight in our classes? Not necessarily.
Teasing out these questions (and potential solutions) is best addressed in the department meeting, committee, or faculty task force. But in the meantime, there are steps you can take to begin shaping the conversation with your own students.
Explain to your students, in the context of empathy and care, that you want to see them succeed in every way, and that these studies have you thinking differently. Tell them that isn’t that you want to take their laptop away; it’s that others who have taken this subject seriously enough to study it, have determined that it has a real impact. They are here to learn, after all.
Still, if you’re unsure how they will respond to a sudden change in classroom policy, poll them anonymously. Gauge their reluctance, and tell them you’re thinking about a change (sleep on it).
If and when you are ready to be more intentional about your students taking notes by hand, consider modeling the way. It is entirely possible that your students have never taken notes by hand, or received any feedback whatsoever about the quality of the notes they write. Show them an example of what good notes and poor notes look like
Or you might simply try it with them in a low stakes manner —lecture about a topic for 5 minutes, then ask them to share out loud what they wrote. If they are reluctant, take them up, then read a random few. Have a conversation (non-judgmental, of course) about the differences in how people process what they hear. Ask them whether you talk too fast or too slow. The conversation could be quite fruitful.
If you are in the planning phases for next term’s courses, consider using a syllabus statement, a short paragraph that explains the importance of note-taking. Given that most faculty go over their syllabus that first week, this is a logical place to include it. We’ve created an example of one below, and it’s plug-in ready (just copy and paste).
Indent the text below 1 inch and include a cursor pointer directly to the left of it.
Example of Syllabus Statement (feel free to copy or modify):
Recommendations for Note-Taking:
Those who study how people learn recently discovered something very interesting. Students who take notes by hand perform better on exams than students who take notes on their laptop (on concept-based questions). Students who use laptops to write down exactly what they hear or see can find themselves unprepared for an exam. Why? Because at the time the material was shared, their brains were not processing and storing what they learned. They merely copied what they heard. So try these things:
- Close your laptop during lecture or any other material that is going to be on your exam. Write down, on paper, what is being said.
- During class, as I’m speaking, write down, in your own words, what I’m saying. Sometimes this will be easy; sometimes this will be hard. When it’s hard, write down the words I’m using and as soon as class is over (or within an hour or two), rewrite it in your own words.
- If I give you a PowerPoint handout, with the slides on it and areas in the margins to write, write something in the margins as I go. Elaborate in your own words, if you can. You might also ask questions you can later return to. Elaborating really does help you store (and later retrieve) the material.
- Let me know if you’d like me to slow down.
Aguilar-Roca, N. M., Williams, A. E., & O’Dowd, D. K. (2012). The impact of laptop-free zones on student performance and attitudes in large lectures. Computers & Education, 59(4), 1300-1308.
Kraushaar, J. M., & Novak, D. C. (2010). Examining the affects of student multitasking with laptops during the lecture. Journal of Information Systems Education, 21(2), 241.
Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological science, 25(6), 1159-1168.