Discussions offer students the opportunity to articulate their knowledge and ideas, to hear a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, to develop their position related to a topic and learn to evaluate their own and others’ positions.

Why Use Discussions?

Using discussions in class:

  • Allow an instructor to assess student learning through performance.
  • Make learning active as students work through complicated ideas and concepts collaboratively.
  • Help build community.
  • Allow students to learn about and evaluate different positions and receive feedback on their own.
  • Enable students to participate as co-constructors of knowledge.
  • Provide opportunities to develop conventions of discourse within a discipline.
  • Expose students to complexity and ambiguity in a supportive environment.
  • Allow students to synthesize and integrate new knowledge.
  • Develop students’ ability to articulate ideas and meanings clearly.

Getting Started with Discussions

  • Involve students in a discussion on the first day and explain the value of discussion to your course.
  • Communicate your expectations for participation. If it is graded, explain clearly how you will do this by using a rubric.
  • Use icebreakers to increase students' comfort level with each other.
  • Consider how you will structure different sized discussion groups.
  • Clarify the difference between debates and discussions to students. Discourage the need to reach a consensus and encourage students to explore possibilities and present evidence to support their points.