Classroom Discussion – Planning Tips for Online, On-Ground, and New Faculty

group of college students gathered about a table talking to each otherLooking 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:

  1. What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
  2. How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

Further Reading/Viewing:
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

Discussions in Canvas

The Canvas’ Discussions Feature – How does it Fare? 

Of all Blackboard tools, the Blackboard Discussion Board may be the most utilized by instructors and students. Many faculty rely on the discussion board as a central aspect of their teaching and learning strategy, for icebreakers, the deep dive, and debates.  

As we move towards Canvas, and away from Blackboard, what kinds of differences can we expect? Does Canvas’ discussions function the same? What implications do these differences have for our design and facilitation? 

This post explores what faculty can and should prepare for, as it relates to this one central aspect of digital teaching. Let’s start with the functionality we can all expect to see. 

 

Functionality Gained in Canvas 

With Canvas, instructors can require peer review of discussion posts. 

Instructors looking to assign students to small groups for student-to-student learning opportunities will appreciate this feature. 

Instructors can easily view/filter posts within a discussion through a word search. 

This may be useful if you need to zero in on students’ use of a word, concept, discussed in the prompt, after all students have posted. Could be useful in large class/sections, too. 

There are easier controls for managing notifications, seeing new updates, etc. 

Students can subscribe to a discussion with ease, be notified on their phone or email of any new updates, and student-created discussions automatically set up these notifications. 

Instructors can organize discussions into their proper Assignment Groups easily during the discussion creation process.

Do you ever find that you need an ad hoc discussion in the middle of a semester? Creating a spontaneous discussion and including their posts as part of their overall grade is possible with this feature. 

 

 

Functionality Maintained in Canvas 

Instructors will maintain the ability to link to external content (e.g. videos, attachments, etc.) 

Canvas Discussions, like Blackboard Discussions, don’t live in a vacuum – they are connected to other content you find out on the web, as well as your own instructional content or instructions (such as Panopto videos and Office365 files. 

Instructors can still require that students post before seeing other students’ posts. 

Instructors can still ask students to edit, delete, or start their post over again. 

 

 

Functionality Lost in Canvas 

A student’s ability to edit and delete their own discussion posts can only be set on a course-wide basis rather than being set per discussion. 

This may have significant implications for instructors and their courses. While instructors can ask students to edit, delete, and then start a new post, enabling this will allow this behavior to all course discussions. 

You cannot set a minimum number of required posts before activity shows as needing grading. 

This may have been important if you used that “flagging feature” in the Blackboard Grade Center as a prompt to grade student work. 

A student’s ability to attach items to discussion posts can only be set on a course-wide basis rather than being set per discussion. 

There is no equivalent to Blackboard’s “force moderation of posts.” 

This means that student posts are posted without any moderation from faculty (Blackboard had the ability to prevent publishing of posts until faculty had reviewed the content…Canvas has no such equivalent feature). 

Instructors cannot allow anonymous posting in ungraded discussions. 

 

Summary 

For instructors ready to dig deeper, there are two helpful resources to get faculty thinking, planning, and integrating discussions into their summer and fall 2021 courses. Canvas publishes an instructor guide on discussions and a student guide. Instructors looking for new ideas for engagement can also peruse the Priming with Canvas course, developed by the Coulter Faculty Commons. 

  

Source: https://canvas.cornell.edu/courses/1848/pages/differences-from-blackboard#Discussions 

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 4 “Active and Interactive Learning” and Module 12.2 “Teaching Online: Communicating with Your Students” 

 


Additional Resources: 

Our next article will highlight How to release content conditionally in Canvasvisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

Designing Effective Discussion Questions

Designing Effective Discussion Questions

ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS OVERVIEW

A good question is both answerable and challenging. It will inspire analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and critical thinking. Below are several types of questions and suggestions about when to use which kind.

WHERE TO BEGIN?

Begin with material students are familiar with or feel comfortable with. This might be a question that can be answered with information from general experience or from basic data in the subject area. Learn to prepare a mix of questions—those that are easily answered, slightly challenging, or highly complex—that they can draw on as the discussion develops.

TYPES OF EFFECTIVE QUESTIONS

Analysis – Questions beginning with “Why…” “How would you…” “What is …”
• Example: What is the meaning of Madame X’s comment about Jacque’s activities…?

Compare and Contrast – “Compare…” “Contrast…” “What is the difference between…” “What is the
similarity between…”
• Example: What is the difference between the mother and the father’s attitudes toward…?

Cause and Effect – “What are the causes/results of…” “What connection is there between…”
• Example: What is the cause of Lea’s distress when she looks at herself in the mirror?

Clarification – “What is meant by…” “Explain how…”

TYPES OF INEFFECTIVE QUESTIONS

Simple Yes-No – Produces little discussion and encourages guessing.
• Example: “Is the Aunt expressing a desire for Gigi to marry?”

Elliptical – Too vague; it is not clear what is being asked.
• Examples: “Well, what do you think about the Don Juan’s values?”

Leading – Conveys the expected answer.
• Example: “Don’t you think that Colette is condemning the…?”

Slanted – Closes down student who may not agree with the implied assumption.
• Example: “Why are Colette’s young women so corrupt?”

MANAGING GROUP DYNAMICS

•Decide whether to ask questions of a particular individual or the whole group. Sometimes calling on an individual may help to get a slow class going, but it can release the other students from the responsibility of formulating answers for themselves.
• Leave sufficient wait time after asking a question before answering it yourself, repeating it, rephrasing it, or adding further information. Wait at least ten to fifteen seconds before making any change in your question.
• Avoid rapid reward for responding. Rapid reward means calling immediately on the first person who indicates an answer or approving immediately of a correct response that a student has given.

For more information about this topic, please contact the Coulter Faculty Commons Educational Development Team at 227-7196.

How to Lead a Discussion

How to Lead a Discussion

BE PREPARED

• Carefully consider your objectives for a discussion. Do you want students to apply newly learned skills, mull over new subject matter, learn to analyze arguments critically, practice synthesizing conflicting views, or relate material to their own lives? These goals are not mutually exclusive, but they require different types of direction.
• Use discussion to help students link concepts to their own lives; to encourage students to evaluate material critically; and to address topics that are open-ended, have no clear resolution, and/or can be effectively addressed through multiple approaches.

SETTING THE AGENDA

• Share your planning decisions with your students. Let them know what your focus is, and why it is important; also invite students to contribute suggestions for discussion topics and formats.
• Make sure the assigned material is discussed in class; if the students don’t come prepared with questions and responses, do not let the discussion wander. Bringing in specific quotes, problems, or other samples of the assigned material can ensure that even under-prepared students will have something to talk about.
• Consider asking students to email or post to a discussion board their thoughts. This will also give you insight into the students’ thoughts while you plan the discussion.

FACILITATE, DON’T DOMINATE

• Use open-ended questions and ask students for clarification, examples, and definitions.
• Summarize student responses without taking a stand one way or another.
• Invite students to address one another and not always “go through” you.
• Pause to give students time to reflect on your summaries or others’ comments.
• Consider taking notes of main points on a whiteboard or document camera.
• Toward the end of the discussion, review the main ideas, the thread of the discussion, and conclusions.

CREATING A GOOD CLIMATE FOR DISCUSSION

• Arrange the room to maximize student- to-student eye contact; e.g., chairs around a table or in a circle.
• When students ask questions, realize you (the instructor) do not have to provide the answer.

EVALUATE

• Notice who did and who did not participate.
• Check the tone of the discussion—was it stimulating and respectful?
• Ask students about their reactions to the discussion session.

For more information on this topic, please contact the Coulter Faculty Commons Educational Development Team at 227-7196.