Discussions & Debates
A course is a learning experience that is more than just a teacher “broadcasting knowledge” but consists of a safe yet lively community where both interactive social activities and learning are taking place. This is part of the social presence and the cognitive discourse of the course.
In a way, facilitating online discussions can lead to better results than in a face to face classroom. In the classroom students often prefer to remain silent or at least very politically correct during certain sensitive discussions. An online environment can feel safer, in part because students can express themselves from behind the safety of a screen and, especially when facilitating asynchronous online discussions, students can take more time to think about their answers.
You could use this...
- To have an academic debate with and between your students, so the program’s content and theories can be analysed, tested and validated by students.
- To let the students practice building statements and arguing in an academic manner, while gaining a better understanding of the content.
- To replace face to face discussions, as they might be held in a traditional classroom setting.
Keep in Mind
- Synchronous vs. Asynchronous. Consider whether a synchronous or asynchronous discussion or debate would contribute most to the program’s goals.
- Manage Expectations. Provide clear guidelines for the contribution student’s need to make: what does it include (e.g. no. references), how long should it be, how many entries, and how many peer-responses you expect. For more information, we advise you to have a look at the Connect with your Students page that you can find on this website.
- Add a Moderator. Be aware that - just like during a face to face debate or discussion - a moderator should be appointed to summarize and guide the discussion. This is also the case when it’s an asynchronous, written discussion. For more information you can have a look at the Add a class moderator page that you can find on this website.
- Build an online Community. Make sure that your students know each other to create a safe environment. If they have not met in real life, organise an introduction exercise to create a familiarity that leads to a safe learning environment. You can find more information on how to build a community on the Connect with your students page on this website.
- General Communication. Make sure to explain the rules of the discourse, provide examples if needed, and set the expectations that you have of the participants. Also, make sure that moderators are well introduced. You can find more information on communication on the Connect with your students page on this website.
Options & examples
- Traditional two-party debate
This works best in smaller groups, using Microsoft Teams. Let the students prepare and present their statements to start the debate. As a teacher you are a host or moderator, giving the floor to people and guiding the discussion.
- Forum discussion
You can use the Brightspace forums for asynchronous discussions with both small and large groups. Propose statements and let the students respond with (counter) arguments backed up with academic references. As a teacher, you can take the editor role by summarizing and weaving discussions to continue and guide the conversation
- Chat discussion
In a chat, people can have a synchronous discussion with multiple people. The number of people in this format can best be kept under 25. In this setting, you will need to have at least one moderator. You can use this format to facilitate a discussion or debate during a live session or video call.
- Pitch & react (video)
Let students pitch their idea, thesis, or plea - using a video or during a video call - to start a discussion. Additionally, feedback can be given to the presenter, so they can improve their work. You can use Brightspace (upload and react in a forum) or a live chat (Microsoft Teams) for this. Make sure to consider the Peer feedback page for more information.
- The Community of Inquiry explained by Jered Borup, Associate Professor in the Division of Learning Technologies at George Mason University
- A video of Gilly Salmon from the University of Western Australia on the 5 stage Model for education.
- Facilitating Discussions by Centre for Innovation