The Importance of Class Discussions
Class discussions offer students opportunities to test their ideas and opinions against the ideas and opinions of their peers.
It is important to set the right tone for discussion in the classroom early on in the semester, and to establish a rapport with your students. Studies have shown that students who contribute to class conversations early on in the semester are much more likely to continue contributing to class discussions throughout the semester than those students who remain quiet during the initial few weeks of the term. Therefore, it is imperative to find ways to involve all students in the formative discussions of the course.
What Makes for a Good Discussion?
Good discussion is like art. It may be hard to define it, but you know it when you see it. Think back to a good discussion you once had, either as a student or an instructor. What made is enjoyable? What made it educational? What made it lively?
Often cited characteristics of a good discussion:
- Accessibility: Students feel comfortable engaging in the discussion.
- Non-combative: There is a cordial and pleasant tone to the conversation and no hostility.
- Diversity: A variety of opinions and points of view get articulated.
- Cohesion and focus: Discussions should be about "something," with a pedagogical goal.
- Trust: Environment should allow students to take intellectual risks.
What Makes for a Bad Discussion?
Conversely, think about your experience in a bad discussion. What troubled you about the discussion? Were there too many participants? Too few? Was it educational? Was it too combative? Too passive?
Often cited characteristics of a bad discussion:
- Limited discussants: Only few students participate.
- Limited perspectives: Students echo instructor's thoughts and limit diversity of opinions.
- Lack of focus: Discussions go off-topic and miss the pedagogical aim.