Thursday, May 24, 2007

Discussion ground rules

Although it may seem like an overly formal step, I have found it very helpful to have students set "rules of engagement" to guide how they will participate and contribute to discussions in both on-campus and online courses. I have students answer questions like:

  • What is our definition of a respectful, balanced discussion?
  • How will we determine in what order people speak?
  • How do we feel about interrupting?
  • What should we do if someone dominates the discussion?
  • What should we do if we don't hear from everyone in the room?
  • What should we do if we discuss something controversial or uncomfortable?
  • What should we do if someone says something we don't like?

Working together the students develop their rules of engagement to guide our discussions. This is a formal document that everyone in the class agrees to. We review it often, and make adjustments when needed.

This activity helps students reflect on their own discussion habits, makes it clear to everyone what is expected during discussions, and empowers students to stick up for themselves and others when one of the rules is violated (e.g., someone dominates the discussion or keeps interrupting others). It also gives students a chance to practice being in a discussion before they have to participate in a discussion covering a course topic, allowing them to become more comfortable with their peers and the discussion format.

Related posts in this blog:
Some guidelines for discussion participation
Don’t jump into discussions
Engaging quieter online students
Small groups reporting out to the large group?
Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment
Beyond debates and conversational roles (Protocols Part 1)
Structures for asynchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 2)
Structures for synchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 3)
Structures for small groups reporting out to whole group (Protocols Part 4)


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