Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Course Delivery > Discussion

Empower students to voice and explore their perspectives and opinions in connection to course content.

Adopt inclusive discussion guidelines to establish community norms for how students and instructors will interact, especially regarding controversial topics or difficult dialogues. Use these guidelines to address non-inclusive behaviors if/when they arise. 

Examples:

  1. “Respect others’ rights to hold opinions and beliefs that differ from your own. When you disagree, challenge or respond to the idea, not the person.” (Philosophy)
  2. In the first class session, discuss unconscious biases for 15-20 minutes (everyone has them) and how to keep biases in check during class. (Social and Decision Sciences)
  3. Collectively brainstorm what will help everyone work at our “maximum potential” and what are things that contribute to being at our “minimum” - those become the guidelines for discussion. (Design)

Considerations:

  1. Including students in the creation of guidelines or revision of guidelines provided by the instructor can enhance student buy-in, ownership, and accountability. 
  2. Creating guidelines for multiple learning modalities (e.g., verbal discussion, Zoom Chat, shared Google Docs, discussion boards) can avoid or minimize non-inclusive behaviors, especially those that are more likely in online or anonymous forums.
  3. Publishing guidelines where everyone can see them (e.g., Canvas, syllabus, Google Doc) can make it easier to reference them, especially during class sessions, if “hot moments” arise.
  4. Guidelines may need to be amended or expanded as group dynamics evolve. Revisiting guidelines during class discussions periodically throughout the semester can help sustain an inclusive, equitable learning environment.

During class sessions, provide multiple opportunities and formats for students to contribute their perspectives.

Examples:

  1. Use interactive collaboration technologies, such as shared Google docs, Jamboards and Presentations, that facilitate student collaboration or crowdsourcing in real time. (Philosophy)
  2. Encourage the use of hand signals or reactions in Zoom to support contributions made by others during discussions. (English)
  3. Strategically invite text-based contributions via the Chat in Zoom, Piazza, or Google Docs. Creating dedicated times for student contributions can minimize divided attention. (Mechanical Engineering)
  4. Anonymously survey students via Polls (e.g., Zoom, Piazza, Canvas, Google Form), then display the results. Highlight variation in opinions, ideas, or experiences to engage and motivate discussion of course content or its application. (Biological Sciences)
  5. Give students a minute to write or draw their thoughts prior to instigating whole-class discussion. Individual writing time allows students who need time to think about the question or point being discussed to have an opportunity to contribute. (Mathematical Sciences)
  6. Organize small group discussions (e.g., using breakout rooms in Zoom) to allow students to share and vet their ideas before speaking in front of the entire class. Students might feel more comfortable speaking in a small group to “try out” their ideas first or identify areas of mutual uncertainty. (Modern Languages)

Considerations:

  1. Providing students with discussion questions ahead of time or alternatives to verbal participation gives students time to think, which is helpful for all students, but especially those learning in a second language. 
  2. Increasing wait time after asking a question (as little as 5-10 seconds) before calling on students can increase the breadth of students participating.
  3. Establishing norms or discussion guidelines for in-person or asynchronous discussions can encourage an inclusive learning environment and prevent harmful, marginalizing behaviors.
  4. Varying the format of how students interact (e.g., anonymously, individually, in pairs or small groups,  class-wide, verbally, in writing) can help maintain student engagement over time.
  5. Learning names and pronouns can help create a welcoming environment for discussion. Using NameCoach can help. Students should also be encouraged to use each other’s names/pronouns.

Between class sessions, employ asynchronous discussions boards, blog posts, or other pre-class submissions that can be leveraged strategically during class sessions. Highlight responses from a variety of students and perspectives during class sessions.

Examples:

  1. Open discussions of research papers, or make transitions between topics during discussions, by displaying questions and responses from the asynchronous discussion board. Call out specific ideas or contributions by the name of the contributor and show them on the screen (e.g., copy and paste onto a slide or show the discussion board). (Biological Sciences)
  2. Highlight any debates that happened on the discussion board or blog and ask for more ideas to support points of view to continue the conversation that began asynchronously. (Political Science)
  3. Post interviews by high-profile directors to a weekly discussion thread, then ask students to comment on how their work aligns or doesn’t. During class, welcome students to share resulting aha-moments, inspirations, doubts, or rejections based on their posts or their peers. (Drama)
  4. Activate the 'like' feature in the discussion board and have students rate the topics they want to discuss in more depth during class. (Human Computer Interactions)
  5. Review students’ posts or submissions prior to class and then employ “warm calling” by reaching out to individual students before or during class to encourage them to share their perspective during class discussions. (Engineering and Public Policy)

Considerations:

  1. Exploring different asynchronous technologies for discussion (e.g., Canvas, Piazza, wiki’s, blogs) can not only create new, inclusive learning opportunities, but also can help make teaching and learning more efficient for instructors and students, respectively. Eberly consultants can help you match technologies to specific needs (eberly-assist@andrew.cmu.edu).
  2. Including an anonymous option for students may increase participation in asynchronous discussions and/or decrease feelings of student embarrassment over types of questions asked. 

Avoid assumptions about any student based on identity or generalizations about particular identity groups. Have a plan for addressing generalizations or assumptions that arise in discussion and include this plan in discussion guidelines.

Examples:

  1. When a generalization or assumption arises, pause and give students a moment to reflect or write their thoughts. Prompt them to identify and question their own assumptions about the statement or topic. This will give the instructor and students time to think. Afterwards, you can opt to talk about the moment together. (Business)
  2. Use language (e.g., pronouns - he, she, they) that is inclusive rather than exclusive, even if students appear homogeneous. (English)
  3. Ask students to explain the reasoning/logic behind their answers. Don’t make assumptions of how they are thinking about a problem or question. (Economics)

Considerations:

  1. Many characteristics of identity are invisible. Assuming students are heterogeneous, even if they appear otherwise, can help avoid unintentional, marginalizing comments or behaviors. 
  2. Identities are multifaceted and thus intersectional (i.e., the facets coexist and dynamically interact, depending on context). Using this list of guiding questions to reflect on your own assumptions and biases can help instructors foster an inclusive learning environment. 
  3. Create discussion guidelines with students and include strategies for navigating “hot moments” that arise during dialogue.

Do not ask individuals to speak for an entire identity group.

Examples:

  1. Explicitly invite students to talk about their individual experiences and perspectives, rather than for an entire group. However, don’t ask a student to share a perspective based on perceptions of their visible or hidden identity. (Art)
  2. Allow students to choose whether or not to participate regarding sharing their particular history, identity, or personal information. (History)
  3. Intentionally discuss what constitutes evidence in the context of the course. What role does anecdote, narrative, or personal experience play in formulating arguments and critiques? (English)
  4. Add additional readings, videos, or other course materials to provide additional insights or perspectives regarding discussion topics. (Engineering)

Considerations:

  1. Identity is complex, multifaceted, and often hidden. A student’s identity may not confine them to a single, predictable, opinion or perspective. Ultimately, experiences of identities are diverse and no one can be designated a spokesperson for a certain identity.
  2. Being asked to speak for an entire identity group can be marginalizing, especially for underrepresented students. Research suggests that students can experience this as tokenism or a microaggression, with negative consequences for their performance and sense of belonging.

 

 

Eberly colleagues are here to help!

Eberly colleagues are available to help you translate strategies and examples to your particular teaching context (eberly-assist@andrew.cmu.edu).