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Discussion-Based Teaching and Learning

Discussions are an effective tool for promoting active learning, critical thinking, communication skills, collaborative learning, and engagement in the classroom. There are several reasons why an instructor might choose to use discussions in the classroom:

  1. Encourages Active Learning: Discussions engage students in the learning process and encourage them to take an active role in their education. This will lead to a deeper understanding and better retention of the material.
  2. Develops Critical Thinking Skills: Discussions help students develop critical thinking skills by encouraging them to analyze and evaluate information, and to consider multiple perspectives.
  3. Improves Communication Skills: Discussions improve students’ communication skills by providing opportunities for them to express their ideas and opinions, listen to others, and practice effective communication techniques.
  4. Promotes Collaborative Learning: Discussions promote collaborative learning by encouraging students to work together to solve problems, share knowledge and skills, and build a sense of community in the classroom.
  5. Enhances Engagement: Discussions help students feel more engaged with the material by connecting it to their own experiences, interests, and values.

Overall, discussions are an effective tool for promoting active learning, critical thinking, communication skills, collaborative learning, and engagement in the classroom.

*P.E.A.R. Approach

When developing questions for students, we tend to ask questions that we think will promote critical thinking. In reality, many students won’t do anything more than what the question asks of them. The PEAR approach develops better discussion questions that encourage critical thinking and more in-depth responses. The PEAR approach responds to Kolb’s experiential learning style theory and guides students to better processes for information retention using the following four components.

  • Personal (P)- Having a personal connection. For example, discuss two to three ways the topics/concepts from reading assignments relate to their work, school, research, or personal life.
  • Experiential (E) – Relate to personal experiences or feelings. For example, ask how the topics or concepts make them feel (connecting to how the topic/concept relates to their life in the first prompt (P).
  • Active (A) – Students must take an action (be doing something). For example, have students take a picture or find a picture on the internet expressing the concept/topic and briefly explain why they chose the picture.
  • Reflective (R) – Students should think and reflect on how it impacted them. For example, ask students to reflect on the topic/concept. Did anything stand out to you or surprise you when completing this task?

Good PEAR questions utilize action verbs that can be mapped to a skill level in Bloom’s Taxonomy. PEAR questions ask students to analyze the readings’ concepts and make connections between theory or practice and personal lives. Have student experiment with the ideas in the readings, share what they would have done differently, reflect on their newly obtained knowledge, and argue the opposite of their classmate’s position.

The I.R.A. approach is a time-efficient and effective technique for promoting active learning and critical thinking for students. How does this work? The instructor assigns a reading of their choice and asks students to respond to the following three-part prompt.

  • Insights (I) – Write three one-sentence bullet points representing new understandings of the reading’s topic/concept.
  • Resources (R) – Find two or three additional resources, such as a book, article, Website, film, or news item, that have similar thoughts, ideas, or themes that amplify the reading
  • Application (A) – Write a paragraph that relates the reading topic/concept to an example from the student’s current or past experience.

Upon completion, ask students to share with the class so they can learn from each other. Score using a rubric. I.R.A.s are a great way to wrap up a discussion or video viewing.

    Managing Discussions

    Consider the size of your class.  If you have less than 30 students, you may find responding to most posts manageable. However, with classes above 30, discussion forums can get overwhelming.

    • Post a summary – Summarize a series of posts rather than respond to each one. Let the conversation develop its momentum before wading in.
    • Consider using groups to divide your discussions for large classes and then post a summary of each group discussion.
    • Be clear and concise with instructions for the discussion. List netiquettes in your instructions to guide students’ behaviors.
    • When writing responses or summaries, it’s nice using students’ names. This helps to create a sense of community.
    • Encourage the use of media in posts. Folio supports this. It can potentially make a thread more engaging. Consider a thread that is a video or audio recording of you asking the question.
    • Use Rubrics for grading discussions. Using rubrics allows you to list your expectations for the activity.

Last updated: 10/9/2023