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What is discussion-based learning & teaching?

Discussion-based teaching (DBT) is an instructional approach where instructors provide students with opportunities to interact with one another and construct their own idea. This practice encourages students to construct meaning through instructor-to-student and student-to-student collaboration.

Why should we use discussion-based learning & teaching?

Using discussion-based teaching help students apply abstract ideas and think critically about what they learn. In fact, studies show that discussions build students’ problem-solving skills more effectively than lectures alone.

 Discussion-based learning & teaching strategies

Strategies

Introductions

Examples

Interaction types

Environments

 

Icebreakers

Provide a hook for students to tell related stories, have been found to be beneficial as a community engagement strategy early in a course (Bender, 2012; Martin & Bolliger, 2018; Watkins, 2014). Another technique is to start a sentence and ask students to complete it. Or ask students to interview each other and present an introduction about the interviewee (Bender, 2003).

One instructor, as an icebreaker, asked students to tell about the “weirdest gift” they had ever received. She later used this as an analogy to some aspect of their course content, which was on special education services. Or give a sentence “I was riding the subway today, when I...” and ask students to build up on it. (Bender, 2003)

Student-to-Instructor

 

Student-to-Student

face-to-face

 

Synchronous(Kaltura/Blackboard Collaborate Ultra/ Microsoft Teams/Zoom)

 

Asynchrnous

(Blackboard discussion boards) 

Questioning

Design high-level questions that are as interesting and controversial as possible to stimulate thought and ideas. Divergent-thinking questions created productive discussion, open-ended questions promoted participation; and probe and synthesis questions promoted knowledge construction (Wang, 2005).

Thought provoking questions like “If you were __________, what would you see?” or evaluative questions like  “What do you think is better, x or y?”. Or make the questions tie into whatever is topical at that point in time. Or involve the questions with a case study, role-play, or synthesis of elements already learned (Berge and Muilenburg, 2002).

 

Student-to-Content

 

Student-to-Instructor

 

Student-to-Student

Face-to-Face

 

Synchronous

(Kaltura/Blackboard Collaborate Ultra/Microsoft Teams/Zoom)

 

Asynchronous

(Blackboard discussion boards/Kaltura/PlayPosit)

Assigning roles

Instructors assign students with rotating roles (e.g., synthesizer, wrapper) to guide their responses and increase critical responsiveness in a discussion (Wise, & Chiu, 2014; Wise, Saghafian & Padmanabhan, 2012).

 

One student could be the organizer, who makes sure that the group works in a timely fashion and keeps relevant to the assigned topic. Another student could be the main researcher; and a third student could be the editor of the material, who is responsible for putting the work into its final form.

Student-to-Content

 

Student-to-Instructor

 

Student-to-Student

Face-to-Face

 

Synchronous

(Blackboard Collaborate Ultra/Microsoft Teams/Zoom)

 

Asynchrnous

(Blackboard discussion boards)

Provocations

Such as debates, discussion artifacts, Socratic circles, and video discussion can support student-student interaction (Kinskey et al., 2018) and promote creativity (Corfman & Beck, 2019).

 

Cummings (1998) divide students into pairs and assign them to each pair a subtopic. Within the pair, one student is the critic of the subtopic, and the other is its defender, the critic and the defender can both post position statements online simultaneously. When everyone has posted, critics were allowed to cross over into the defenders’ forum & make a rebuttal statement to the critics posted and opinion on the specific subtopic under inquiry. Similarly, defenders were allowed to cross over into the critic’s forum and make their rebuttal statement. The third & final stage of assignment was for every student to reflect on all the positions & rebuttal statements of each subtopic of the main topic, and write a reflective paper, only be accessible to Cummings as the instructor (Bender, 2003).

Student-to-Content

 

Student-to-Student

Face-to-Face

 

Synchronous

(Kaltura/Blackboard Collaborate Ultra/Microsoft Teams/Zoom)

 

Asynchronous

(Blackboard discussion boards/Kaltura/PlayPosit)

Student-lead discussions

Give students ownership over what discussed, from the questions themselves to possible answers to your questions. This start with students arriving to class having read a shared text.

Share an open-ended question about the text and have multiple documents related to that question (literary criticism, encyclopedia entries, op-eds, news articles, etc.). Ask students to work together to consider the question from multiple angles before you summarized their answers (Tahmaseb, 2018).

Student-to-Content

 

Student-to-Student

Face-to-Face

 

Synchronous

(Blackboard Collaborate Ultra/Microsoft Teams/Zoom)

 

Asynchrnous

(Blackboard discussion boards)

Note: The instructors can give a handout listing some techniques for students to facilitate discussions (see Guide 1). These techniques can also be used by instructors who need to facilitate discussions in the classroom or in the online sessions.

 

Student-lead discussions: For more information on how to involve the three levels of engagement (student-to-student, student-to-instructor, student-to-content) in a discussion-based course.

 

 Discussion-based learning & teaching Guidelines

 Set the Expectation for Students in the Discussion

  • Create a physical/virtual environment that supports discussion. For a face-to-face class, arrange the seating in circle or curve to make students see each other, making yourself part of the group. For an online class, create discussion boards for students to post their voices.
  • Help students get to know each other. No matter for a face-to-face class or online, use icebreakers to get students talk during the first class session.
  • Share expectations for participation, both verbally and in the syllabus. For a face-to-face class, for example, ask students to come to class prepared with the readings and assignment completed; they should share at least one comment to readings or topics; they should listen carefully when others sharing; they should raise their hands to talk, etc. For an online class, state at the beginning how often you want students to log on and participate. Also provide students with a clear idea as to how often they can expect you to be in class.
  • Let students know how you will grade them for participation. For a face-to-face class, talk about how you will measure their performance in discussion. For an online class, talk about how both the quantity and quality of response will count and let students know the style of online responses you expect.
  • Provide rubrics that behaviorally describe expected and unacceptable levels of participation in class/quantity and quality of response online (see Davis, 2009, pp. 110-111, for suggestions).
  • Consider self-evaluations, peer-to-peer evaluations to measure students discussion performance.

Teacher’s Role in Discussion

  • Prepare for the discussion
    • An effective discussion requires much more preparation than an effective lecture. In a lecture, you can decide what you will cover. In a discussion, you should be prepared to explore any issue reasonably related to the discussion topic. This means you must know the topic very well. Be ready to address potential issues or questions that the students might bring up. Outline your possible answers or responses.
  • Facilitate the discussion

○        Be patient, since discussions take time to get started. Allow for pauses and silence. Although silence may feel socially awkward, it gives both you and students time to think. You may need to train your students (and yourself) to feel comfortable with silence.

○        Listen to what each student says

○        Observe who is — and is not — participating

  • Ask questions

○        Ask a student for clarification, or to support his or her comment or opinion; use open-ended questions (that cannot simply be answered by a “yes” or a “no” or one word); ask divergent questions (where there can be more than one acceptable answer). However, do not question a single student too long.

○        Using discussion questions effectively

■         Start with open-ended questions

■         Ask questions with multiple answers

■         Ask follow-up questions if the answer is short

■         Identify the purpose of your question and plan to ask it at an appropriate time.

■         Use small groups to let students discuss a question, which will encourage them to participate

■         Allow 10-20 seconds wait time after asking a question or topic

  • Deal with conflict

○        It is important not to ignore conflicts. First, try to clarify what seems to be the disagreement; it might simply be a cognitive misunderstanding. Listing the pros and cons visually (e.g., whiteboard, handout, discussion board) can be helpful. If the conflict involves many students, let the group talk about their disagreement in some manner.

  • Provide summaries

○        Periodically during the discussion, and certainly at the end, provide a summary and perhaps some conclusions of the discussion. Verify group consensus and check to see whether all the students do actually agree: “Does that statement reflect what all of you think?”

  • Reflect on what took place during the discussion

○        After the discussion, think about what worked well and what you might do differently. Think about which student(s) did or did not participate in the discussion. Which of them contributed most? Did any student(s) dominate? What was the quality of the students’ comments? And especially, what did the students learn?

Guide 1: Discussion Facilitation Techniques

 

(Resource from: Ng, C. S., Cheung, W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2012). Interaction in asynchronous discussion forums: peer facilitation techniques. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(3), 280-294.)



References

  • Banna, J., Grace Lin, M., Stewart, M., & Fialkowski, M. (2015). Interaction matters: Strategies to pro-mote engaged learning in online introductory nutrition course. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11(2), 249–261. PMID:27441032
  • Bender, T. (2003). Discussion-based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning: Theory, Practice, and Assessment. Stylus Publishing.
  • Bender, T. (2012). Discussion-based online teaching to enhance student learning: Theory, practice and assessment (2nd ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Berge, Z., and L. Muilenburg. 2002. March 4. “A Framework for Designing Questions for Online Learning.” Berge Collins Associates. http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/muilenburg.html
  • Bradley, M., Thom, L., Hayes, J., & Hay, C. (2008). Ask and you will receive: How question type in-fluences quantity and quality of online discussions. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 888–900. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00804.x
  • Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Michigan University Website: Link
  • Corfman, T., & Beck, D. (2019). Case study of creativity in asynchronous online discussions. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16(1), 1–20. doi:10.118641239-019-0150-5
  • Cummings, J. A. 1998. “Promoting Student Interaction in the Virtual College Classroom.” http://www.ihets.org/progserv/education/distance/faculty_papers/1998/ indiana2.html
  • Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kinskey, C., Miller, C. L., Hauck, K., & Manderfeld, M. (2018). Structured techniques for creating engaging online discussions. IT Solutions Publications. Retrieved from https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/it-solutions-pubs/2/
  • Martin, F., & Bolliger, D. U. (2018). Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of en-gagement strategies in the online learning environment. Online Learning, 22(1), 205–222. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1092
  • Meier, J. (2017). Factors that Influence an Intern's Learning About and Enactment of Discussion-Based Teaching. Michigan State University.
  • Ng, C. S., Cheung, W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2012). Interaction in asynchronous discussion forums: peer facilitation techniques. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(3), 280-294.
  • Ryan Tahmaseb (2018). Effective Student-Led Discussions. https://www.edutopia.org/article/effective-student-led-discussions
  • Stanford Teaching Commons Website. Link
  • Truhlar, A. M., Williams, K. M., & Walter, M. T. (2018). Case study: Student engagement with course content and peers in synchronous online discussions. Online Learning, 22(4), 289–312.doi:10.24059/olj.v22i4.1389
  • Wang, C.-H. (2005). Questioning skills facilitate online synchronous sessions. Journal of Computer Assisted Technology, 21(4), 303–313. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2005.00138.x
  • Watkins (2014). Developing e-learning activities. Distance Learning, 11(4), 62–64
  • William, E. (2011). Effective classroom discussions. IDEA paper. Retrieved from https://ideacontent.blob.core.windows.net/content/sites/2/2020/01/IDEA_Paper_49.pdf
  • Wilton, L., & Brett, C. (Eds.). (2020). Handbook of Research on Online Discussion-Based Teaching Methods. IGI Global. http://doi:10.4018/978-1-7998-3292-8
  • Wise, A. F., & Chiu, M. M. (2014). The impact of rotating summarizing roles in online discussions: Effects on learners’ listening behaviors during and subsequent to role assignment. Computers in Human Behavior, 38, 261–271. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.05.033
  • Wise, A. F., Saghafian, M., & Padmanabhan, P. (2012). Towards more precise design guidance: Speci-fying and testing the functions of assigned student roles in online discussions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60(1), 55–82. doi:10.100711423-011-9212-

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