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When it comes to discussion participation, are your students stymied?

Veteran instructor Andrea Jost (GLA 601: The Art and Ideology of the 20th Century) offers these suggestions to help her students figure out how to take part in the weekly conversation. 

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Guidelines for Students: What to say in the discussion?

why discussion is important

For your instructors, your participation in discussions is the first and most direct way to "hear" your voice, to know what you are taking away from the materials, and to find out how they can help you more, if needed. Since they don't "see" your face in class, they get to know you through the conversations in the discussion. This is our classroom, where we meet, exchange ideas, and get to know each other.

If you don’t know where to start, begin with the question

  • Take enough time to read the question carefully, even if it seems straightforward.
    • What is it really asking?
    • How is it related to what you learned during that module?
    • Is it asking for a specific "correct" answer, or is it open-ended, asking for your interpretation or opinion?
  • Is anything in the question not clear? Restate the question in your own words and ask for clarification for something that you feel needs more detail or further explanation. Ask the instructor to rephrase the question or give examples.
  • Try to connect it back to the content; that's your first step toward an answer.
  • Take some time to think about how the question connects with you directly, your work, your understanding. What personal experiences or connections do you have, and can bring to the conversation? That is another way to start participating.
  • If you still don’t think you know how to reply, start by sharing how you felt when you read the question.
    • For example, was it daunting? Share your first impression.
    • Did you feel you would not be able to come up with an idea or a solution? Share that as well.
    • Or, was it confusing? Did you feel you were not sure where to start, or only got partially through your reply? Explain what confused you.
  • State where you are coming from and how far you got. Ask others for their opinion.

If you're still stuck, let your classmates inspire you

  • Take time to read what others have already posted.
    • How are they approaching their answer?
    • Are they giving examples from the module?
    • Are they doing extra research?
    • Are they sharing experiences from their own work?
    • Are any of the other answers inspiring you to add something?
  • If you feel more comfortable that way, start with a comment or a follow-up question to a classmate's post, before answering the original question.
  • If you are commenting on your fellow students' posts, state what you found interesting, unclear, etc. and ask for more details.
    • If you agree, state why and give an example from your own experience that connects you to the original statement.
    • If you have a question, restate what you are asking about and be as specific as possible.
    • If you feel hesitant about posting, ask your classmate for suggestions or about how they approached the question.

How might you adapt Andrea's ideas to your class?

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