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Many courses involve discussions with students. The aim might be to resolve questions, to compare different academic approaches, or to gather ideas or arguments. As the lecturer, you are responsible for moderating and structuring the discussion unless you have specifically arranged otherwise.
It is desirable for as many different students to participate in discussions, not always the same few people. You can encourage this by using methods for engaging your students. As the moderator, you should also pay attention to whether certain, often clichéed, communication patterns are being reproduced: Which students tend speak very often or at length, name-drops, or uses a lot of specialized jargon? Which students begin their contributions by relativizing their statements or downplays themselves and their own abilities? Who interrupts whom? Do some students speak without raising their hands? Do others refer back to previous people’s comments? Whose comments do they mention? To bring such inequality-generating patterns to students’ attention, you can introduce various types of speaking queues, in which you give preference to people’s first comments or explicitly follow a strategic quota system for a set length of time.

Calling on students who haven’t spoken up voluntarily can be more or less common depending on the academic culture and teaching style. For some students, this situation is so uncomfortable and fear-inducing that it might not be the best way to help them bring their knowledge to the fore, and as a consequence, they might come across as incompetent or poorly prepared. For others, being called on unprompted might be encouraging or motivating. If a student cannot answer, there are different possible causes. If this happens frequently, we recommend using methods for student engagement, an interim evaluation, or a one-on-one meeting to find out the causes and recommend or initiate strategies for responding. Use positive feedback to motivate students to participate when they realize they are experiencing a learning process and notice that the discussion becomes more exciting when different perspectives are included.

Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.