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Education Blog



1 July, 2016

A scientist’s aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify.”

– Leo Szilard, Austro-Hungarian Physicist

Reasons to  use discussions


  • Let instructors to evaluate student learning through performance.
  • Make learning active.
  • Help build community.
  • Enable students to learn about and evaluate different positions and receive feedback on their own.
  • Allow students to join as co-constructors of knowledge.
  • Give chances to develop conventions of discourse within a discipline.
  • Can expose students to complexity and ambiguity in a supportive environment.
  • Let students to synthesize and integrate new knowledge.
  • Improve students’ ability to state ideas and meanings clearly.
  • Allow students to work through complicated ideas and concepts collaboratively.

When to use discussions

Discussions give chances for students to obtain the following learning objectives (Nilson, 2010, p. 127-128):

  • Check and alter perspectives, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors.
  • Explore new topics with an open mind.
  • Think critically.
  • Solve problems.
  • Listen actively.
  • Communicate orally.
  • Apply knowledge to new situations.
  • Retain course material.
  • Desire to learn more about a subject.

Effectively integrating discussions into lectures and other classroom settings

  1. Involve students in a discussion on the first day and explain the value of discussion to your course.
  2. Communicate your expectations for participation. If grading participation, explain clearly how you will do this. Use a rubric to present what a good contribution to a discussion looks like.
  3. Useicebreakers to improve students’ comfort level with each other.
  4. Consider how you will structure smaller discussion groups.
  5. Use a visual aid to help direct discussions in larger classes, and instruct students to refrain from sitting in certain rows to let you and your TAs to circulate and guide students as needed.
  6. Make sure that the difference between debates and discussions to students is clear. Discourage the need to reach a consensus, and motivate students to explore possibilities and present evidence to support their points.