DISCUSSIONS

(From Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom, by D. W. Johnson, R. T. Johnson, and K. Smith, Interaction Book Company, 1991, p. 5:1-5:9; and Teaching Tips, Wilbur McKeachie, Houghton Mifflin, Berkeley, 1999)

ADVANTAGES

  • Increases instructor awareness of student learning
  • Better suited to developing higher order cognitive skills
  • Makes students feel more engaged and welcome
  • More likely to change attitudes
  • Gives more responsibility to students for learning

PROBLEMS

  • Less information is conveyed
  • Some students may not contribute to discussions
  • Some students may dominate or be abrasive
  • Difficult to keep discussion focused on topic
  • Judging the appropriate amount of talking by the instructor

ENEMIES OF THE DISCUSSION

  • Students may feel that they are not learning
  • Students not sure what they are discussing
  • Agreement arrived at too easily
  • It is believed that the instructor already knows the ‘right’ answer or is looking for the ‘correct’ viewpoint
  • Students have not done the reading
  • Students feel that the atmosphere is not safe to make errors or to voice tentative, unformed ideas

The list of advantages should be used to decide when to use the discussion as a teaching mode. If you feel that the content would benefit from having a class discussion, the next stage is to take steps to combat the problems and enemies of the discussion. Some suggestions for doing so can be found by going back to here.