Discussion: Being a good participant does not mean that you always have the answer; it can also mean that you know when to ask the right questions and when to recognize that the answers have already been offered by the class but need to be synthesized.
A. Process: Discussion occurs when the members of the class engage each other in a critical examination of the readings, of ideas, and of each other's positions.1. Large group: While small groups will be used to develop ideas, the primary focus of the class will be on developing large group discussion skills. However, these skills can be transferred into small groups and applied to discussion facilitation. The focus on large group means that you must be aggressive. You must be willing to assert yourself and to insert yourself into a discussion. While I will not randomly pick people out of the class for contributions to discussion, I will occasionally invite quieter class members who are offering non-verbal feedback to verbalize their reactions. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to participate.
2. Q &A: While I occasionally will use a question and answer format, that does not constitute the ideal discussion setting. Discussion does not occur when the class merely answers questions posed by the professor. Engagement is essential.
B. Attendance: Simply coming to class will not get you a good discussion grade. Presence does not constitute participation. While attendance is necessary in order to participate in discussion, it is not sufficient. To be perfectly clear, if you attend class, but never participate, you will receive a 0 for discussion.
C. Grading: Discussion is worth X% of your grade. I will look for five primary characteristics of good discussion: your ability to synthesize, to question, to engage in argument, to use the readings and to hypothesize.1. synthesize: Good participants not only generate ideas of their own, but also creatively synthesize the ideas of others. Synthesis includes drawing connections between the readings, between in class and out of class experience, and between the comments of others in the class. Therefore, I look fora. an ability to connect your comments to the discussion: if someone has just said something that you want to build on, make sure you articulate the connection. However, you should not be repetitive.
b. an ability to synthesize class discussion: you should put together things others have said and form them into a coherent position. Listening, and then synthesizing, is an integral part of any discussion. It is also one of the most difficult to develop.
c. an ability to resolve conflict: sometimes people disagree when they really do not mean to. If you, as a participant, can put together apparently divergent opinions into a coherent position, then you have been a good participant.
2. question: Asking questions is as important to good discussion as making claims. Therefore, I look for a willingness to ask questionsa. of other class members: if a person's position is unclear, ask him/her to clarify it. Sometimes the right question can synthesize a discussion. Other times, a question might be necessary in order to check the accuracy of perceptions. Also, asking questions of others is a good way to include quieter members in the discussion.
b. of the readings: if the readings are unclear, then pose questions about the readings.
c. of the professor: you should be willing to question me, both for clarification and as a challenge. Sometimes, I will make outrageous claims simply to instigate debate and discussion.
3. argument: An argument contains a claim, data to support that claim, and a warrant linking the evidence to the claim. Argument not only is a supported claim, but it is also a process through which you engage others in a critical examination of ideas.a. argument as claim/data/warrant. I will look for:i. making complete arguments: it is hard to contest a claim if no evidence is presented with the claim. If you make a claim, you need to provide evidence to support it.
ii. more than opinion: a complete argument is more than "just your opinion." It is a reasoned position that deserves examination and consideration.
b. argument as process. I will look for:i. not talking only to hear yourself talk: you are being graded on the quality and quantity of discussion. However, if you only have quantity on your side, your grade will be a poor one. Engagement requires that you become part of the process.
ii. a willingness to engage other class members: do not direct all of your comments to the instructor. Challenge and respond to other class members. If you have a question, ask the person making the argument, not the prof. Also, listen to and take notes on what your classmates say. Insightful and noteworthy comments do not exclusively spring forth from the professor's mouth.
iii. a willingness to disagree: you should be willing to disagree with a classmate. Argument and controversy are good -- they tend to sharpen ideas and clarify readings. If you and a classmate disagree, both of you are forced to develop your positions more fully. Disagreement is not bad.
iv. avoiding interrupting others: you should treat others with respect and make sure you listen to what others say. By listening, you avoid repeating what has already been said.
v. attitude: your attitude toward others should be positive, non-divisive, respectful, yet critical (critical does not mean negative). You should avoid blaming others for misunderstanding.
vi. inclusiveness: you should attempt to draw other class members into discussion. If engagement is to occur, then it is important that each of you take responsibility to draw in quieter class members. You should look for non-verbals and then ask the person to comment on what you just said.
4. readings: A discussion-based class only succeeds if all members of the class have completed the readings. The purpose of discussion is not to describe and review the readings. Instead, discussion is a chance for you to internalize and apply the concepts from the readings. The more you engage in discussion, the quicker and more completely you will learn key concepts. Therefore, I look fora. specificity: the more specific you can be with examples and with references to the reading, the better your participation.
b. application of concepts from the readings.
c. understanding of the readings.
d. evidence of critical thought about the readings.
5. hypothesize: While complete arguments are always good, sometimes, you have not completely formulated a position. Because discussion is a process, it is important that people be willing to toss out unformed ideas for evolution and as a basis for further discussion. Therefore, I look for:a. a willingness to hypothesize: you should be willing to throw ideas out on the table for discussion. You do not have to wait until you have completely developed positions. You should be willing to begin developing an idea and then let others take over.
b. a willingness to play devil's advocate: sometimes, you may want to toss out a position you yourself do not completely ascribe to. Be willing to instigate debate. Be willing to be the focal point of discussion.