We often focus on presentation skills as oral communication skills, but students also need to learn skills for leading and contributing to productive group discussions. Small group discussions can easily go off the rails when students indulge in off-topic talking, inadequate listening, and disrespectful behavior. The dynamic quality of class discussion presents challenges to faculty who would like to hold students accountable for the quality of their participation in these discussions.
Multhaup (2008) describes how to prepare students for substantive class discussions and suggests two strategies for evaluating student contributions to class discussion. Many of these strategies can also be adapted for the online environment.
Establish ground rules for effective class discussion (first week of class)
Establish expectations for class discussions by facilitating a think-pair-share activity during the first week of the term.
Use the comments from the group discussion to identify some ground rules and expectations for individual participation in class discussion during the remainder of the term.
Adaptation for online courses
Create a threaded discussion based on questions such as
Peer evaluation of the quality of participation in discussion
Require students to complete a Participation Survey three or four times during the term. Each student must complete the following three evaluation elements for every student in the class, including themselves:
Compile the collective (anonymous) feedback for individual students and distribute this feedback to each student. If necessary, edit comments or add your own comments.
Adaptation for online courses
Create an assignment or survey in Blackboard in which students answer these questions. You can make completion of the feedback a graded assignment (completed/not completed), compile the feedback information for individual students, and distribute this feedback through the course email function or provide it as feedback within Blackboard.
If you ask students to facilitate a discussion, gather peer feedback about this skill.
After each facilitated discussion, members of the discussion group complete a peer feedback survey for the discussion leader. The peer feedback answers the following questions:
Provide feedback several times during the term to enable students to improve their participation and discussion skills over time.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.
Claudia J. Stanny, PhD, Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Weekly Teaching Notes: 2014-2015 Index
Include High-Impact Teaching Practices to Make Learning Stick
Use Elements of Cognitive Constructivism to Design Effective Learning Activities
Develop Expertise in Students by Creating Cognitive Apprenticeships
Improving Student Learning with (Almost) No Grading