Engaging ALL Students in Discussions

Discussion offers the opportunity to hear student perspectives and engage in debate and dialogue, but it also presents challenges like encouraging participation among a wide variety of students, ensuring a variety of ideas and points of view are heard, and helping students engage in civil dialogue about difficult topics. Here are some of our favorite resources to help improve the experience and increase student learning with discussions in all modalities.

Tips for Discussions in Any Modality

Effective discussions should promote critical thinking, active engagement, and a deeper understanding of the subject matter. By creating a supportive environment and implementing these strategies, you can maximize the benefits of discussions in your college class.

  • Begin by setting clear expectations for the discussion. Let students know the objectives, guidelines for participation, and any assessment criteria (try a rubric for consistency). When students understand what is expected of them, it can lead to more focused and meaningful contributions.
  • Craft discussion prompts that are open-ended and thought-provoking. These prompts should encourage critical thinking and stimulate discussion rather than elicit simple answers. Relate the prompts to course content and learning objectives.
  • Encourage students to share diverse viewpoints and experiences. Acknowledge and value different perspectives, and facilitate discussions that explore various angles of a topic. This can lead to richer, more comprehensive discussions.
  • Act as a facilitator rather than a lecturer during discussions. Intervene when necessary to keep the conversation on track, clarify points, and guide students toward deeper exploration of the topic. Avoid dominating the discussion or stifling student contributions.
  • Incorporate technology and online discussion platforms to facilitate discussions both in and outside the classroom. These platforms can allow for more structured and organized conversations, as well as asynchronous participation.

Live Discussions in the Campus Classroom

  • Foster an inclusive and respectful atmosphere where students feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Emphasize the importance of active listening, empathy, and constructive criticism. Address any inappropriate behavior promptly.
  • Allow students, especially introverted students, the opportunity to formulate their thoughts prior to being called on to verbally participate.
  • Provide discussion questions ahead of time if they involve a required reading or video. The questions both guide students’ reading/viewing of the material, helping them identify key concepts and issues, and allowing them to formulate their thoughts prior to being expected to articulate them in class.

Additional Resources

Live Discussions Online

Conducting live online discussions in a college class can be an effective way to engage students in real-time. Live online discussions can help replicate the interactive nature of in-person classes in a virtual environment. Here are some tips to ensure these discussions are productive and meaningful. 

  • Select a reliable and user-friendly online platform for hosting live discussions. Ensure that it supports video and audio communication, screen sharing, closed captioning and chat features. UTSA supports Zoom for online courses.
  • At the beginning of the course or before each live discussion, communicate clear expectations for participation, etiquette, and the agenda. Explain how discussions will be assessed and the role of students in contributing to the conversation.
  • As the instructor, take on the role of a facilitator rather than a lecturer. Encourage all students to participate by calling on individuals, using breakout rooms for small-group discussions, and employing interactive tools like polls and whiteboards. Foster an inclusive environment where students feel comfortable speaking.
  • Record the live discussions and make them available to students for review afterward. This can be particularly helpful for students who couldn't attend the live session or want to revisit the material for better comprehension. Make sure you follow UTSA's FERPA guidelines and ensure content is accessible for all students.

Asynchronous Online Discussions

Creating effective online asynchronous discussions for college students requires careful planning and design. Here are five tips to help you create engaging and productive discussions.

  • Provide clear guidelines and expectations for participation, such as the number of required posts, word limits, and deadlines. Explain how you will assess their contributions (try using a rubric for consistency and fairness.) This clarity helps students understand what is expected of them.
  • Provide various media and resources in discussions, such as articles, videos, case studies, or simulations. Encourage students to share these as well. This can make discussions more engaging and cater to different learning styles. Ensure that the resources are easily accessible to all students.
  • Actively participate in the discussions as a moderator and facilitator. Your presence can help guide the conversation, provide clarifications, and encourage meaningful interactions. Consider posting follow-up questions or comments to stimulate further discussion.

You can use Padlet or the Canvas discussion tool to create engaging discussions. View this sample Padlet to learn how to use Padlet for discussion.

Difficult Discussions

Difficult discussions in college classes can be opportunities for critical thinking and learning about diverse perspectives. By setting a positive tone, maintaining objectivity, and providing support, you can create an environment where students can engage with complex and controversial subjects in a productive and respectful manner. Here are five tips to help you manage and facilitate these discussions effectively:

  • Begin by setting ground rules for respectful and constructive communication. Emphasize the importance of active listening, empathy, and the use of evidence to support arguments. Clearly state that personal attacks or offensive language will not be tolerated.
  • Foster an inclusive and safe space where all students feel comfortable expressing their opinions, even if they differ from the majority. Encourage students to share their perspectives and experiences while respecting diverse viewpoints.
  • As the instructor, maintain a neutral and objective stance during difficult discussions. Avoid expressing your own personal biases, and instead, guide the conversation toward critical analysis and evidence-based reasoning.
  • When discussions become heated or unproductive, use redirection and reframing techniques to steer the conversation back on track. Ask clarifying questions, encourage students to consider alternative viewpoints, and emphasize the importance of evidence and logic.
  • Offer additional resources, readings, or materials to help students better understand the topic or context of the discussion. Encourage students to conduct further research and share their findings. Additionally, be available for one-on-one discussions with students who may need additional support or clarification.

Additional Resources: