Plan discussions

You can use discussions—both in class and online (in myCourses)—to encourage students to:

  • Engage with course content

  • Exchange ideas with peers

  • Practice expressing ideas in preparation for assignments

  • Reflect on and develop responses

  • Develop interpersonal connections

  • Stay on track with course content

Foster productive and meaningful discussions

The following suggestions are intended to help you plan and implement productive and meaningful discussions.

Planning

  • Consider how discussions will support the learning outcomes you have set for your course.

  • Consider what group size will be most effective to support the learning outcomes: whole class discussions, small group discussions, or a mix throughout the term are all possible.

  • Articulate your expectations for participation by providing student with explicit instructions that include, for example:

    • the type of intellectual engagement (e.g., building on peers’ ideas; providing evidence for claims; asking and answering questions)

    • if online in myCourses:

      • the number of posts

      • the length and format of posts

      • the opening and closing dates for each discussion

  • Set simple and consistent expectations about students’ responsibilities so student can focus on the substance of what they need to do rather than the how and when.

  • If online in myCourses: Include example posts along with the instructions so students can see what they need to do.

  • Allow students multiple opportunities to participate so they can develop their skill with this type of engagement.

  • Give discussion assignments a name in the course outline that captures what you hope students will gain from participating. For example, rather than “Online Participation” or “Online Discussion,” consider names such as “Community knowledge building” or “Critiques of author claims.”

  • Integrate discussions into the overall course content. If online in myCourses, link discussion forums to appropriate modules.

  • Assessment and feedback:

    • Consider assigning a grade to provide extrinsic motivation for participation. A weight of 10-20% is recommended. If discussions are part of a participation mark that exceeds 10% of students’ final grade, keep in mind article 3.1.6 of McGill’s Student Assessment Policy.

    • Let students know how their discussion participation will be assessed. Some considerations:

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Implementing

Encourage productive and meaningful student participation:

  • Link the brief Getting the Most Out of myCourses Discussion Forums video to myCourses and encourage students to watch it.

  • Enhance active participation with strategies and sample phrases found under Moderating discussions.

  • If online in myCourses, remind students to look at the example posts you provided with the instructions.

  • Pose questions that are open-ended (no single right answer), meaningful, and debatable so that discussion is truly merited.

  • Provide discussion prompts in a variety of formats, such as text, images, video, and audio.

Clarify the roles of all those involved in moderating discussions:

  • Will your role involve posing questions? Intervening if the conversation goes off topic or becomes disrespectful? Answering questions?

  • What will the Teaching Assistant’s role involve?

  • What is students’ role? For example, students can be responsible collectively for keeping the conversation going; individual students can be responsible for moderating on a rotation basis; or one student can be responsible for starting the discussion and another for summarizing it.

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References