Leading Discussion

Complementing lecturing is class discussion. One of the most attractive aspects of a residential liberal arts education is the opportunity to engage with classmates and faculty in small groups for challenging, stimulating and rewarding discussion.

This video from the Bok Center at Harvard introduces some of the recommended practices for conducting an effective conversation.

Barbara Gross Davis, in her book Tools for Teaching, has an excellent chapter on stimulating student participation during discussion sections. Here's an adaptation from the University of Berkeley's site:

Encouraging Student Participation in Discussion

Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences also has useful information on leading discussions.

You may want to compare the techniques that you use to lead discussions to these resources.

Technologies Supporting and Enhancing Leading Discussion:

With the proliferation of social networking tools and the increasing familiarity with them by our students, faculty are using a number of tools to augment in class discussion with online electronic conversations.

Some faculty use the electronic discussion to set the stage for an in class session, posting a reading or discussion topic and asking the students to respond before the discussion session. Others use online conversations to extend the thread of an in class discussion beyond class time.  Faculty have observed that students who are reticent in class will often participate more actively electronically. Further, online discussions seem to be a more comfortable medium for students for whom English is not the first language.

At Middlebury, the two most popular technologies for online discussion are to use the comment features of either Moodle or WordPress. Both are capable of supporting online discussion. A few faculty have used Mediawiki (the wiki software currently supported by LIS) for online conversation.

Here are some resources to help you formulate your online discussion strategies:

  1. Types of Questions for Online Discussion - Penn State Learning Design Community Hub
  2. Qualities of a Good Discusser - Lehigh University