Discussion-Based Instruction

Discussion-based instruction provides students with opportunities to engage in dialogue during class times or asynchronously via prompts in an online course. It is a particularly common form of active learning.

Students might first read materials before a discussion section, watch lecture material, or take pre-assessments to prepare for class, but the purpose of the class time is discussions: to partake in a collective experience with other students and the instructors. The instructional materials and class resources, for this method, become a scaffolded conversation tool. This method is one that promotes critical thinking and reflection—but may be unfamiliar to students in their first or even second year in college, so instructors might wish to model.

A word of caution: “presence” or “engagement” in discussion-based courses might be difficult to measure if you expect every student to speak at least once in a course—so you might consider what the criteria for success is within a discussion-base course. In an in-person course, let’s say the cap is 35 students, even with a 90-minute class period, it would be incredibly difficult to “hear” from each student each meeting period. Consider utilizing small groups for discussions, or providing an alternate modality for participation.

Here are few helpful resources about discussion-based instruction from Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Yale‘s teaching centers.