Leading a Good Discussion

Of course not all people like to perform in front of groups, but there are a few things to keep in mind while planning your discussion week that might make it more effective, smoother and even fun. Your role for the week is to encourage inclusive, respectful and confidential discussion of our class materials (assigned readings and films). You will do that both outside class via our Moodle discussion forums, and in class on Zoom. If you are working as a pair, one person should devise questions for Tuesday by Sunday evening and post them to the Moodle discussion forum for that week. The other person should then be first responder, commenting on one or two of the questions in the forum. Then switch roles for Thursday, with one person posting discussion questions by Wed late afternoon, the other being first responder.

How to post to Moodle Forums

Click on “Add a new discussion topic” . Give your post a brief subject, then put the text of your post into the “message” box. Then click “Post to forum.” I recommend that you compose your questions/comments in another application (Word, Google docs), then paste the text into the message box, rather than composing your posts directly in Moodle, which does not automatically save your work.

Comments in class or on Moodle can be in many forms, for example:

  • Follow up with a peer's comment by bringing in a relevant quote from a reading or moment from the film that illustrates the dynamic they're discussing.
  • Start a conversation by describing a particular scene in a reading or film that struck you in relation to the other readings (this week or previous weeks).
  • Respond to comments about authors' goals and voices with a thought about the film director's goals and voices.
  • Compare and contrast narrative techniques in the readings to filmic techniques used in the film.
  • Ask a follow-up, clarifying question, and pose a couple possibilities for what your peer might have meant. Give an example.

1) Start Preparing Early! Give yourself time to read and digest the assigned readings for that week, along with any supplementary and contextualizing materials you might want to add.

  • Read required readings and view the film very carefully, take notes.

  • Check out the supplementing links for that week on the website (further reading/films, links).

  • Make sure your understanding of the theorists' arguments is well-situated in time and space (i.e., when was he or she writing? where did they do fieldwork? what part of the world and/or group is their main body of data based on? what other theorists are they most indebted to? What historical situations might be influencing his/her stances?).

  • Sit down and ponder. This step is crucial, for out of it will come interesting and to the point discussion questions for the class. Make a time to consult with your discussion co-leader and brainstorm together. What do particular terms mean, anyway? How does their use of these terms compare with others we've read? How do we assess this argument? It's implications for that time? for us now? What are the writer's methods? What does an ethnographic case help us understand about sex and gender?

2) Come up with five-six discussion questions for the class. To make this more than just a rote exercise, give some thought to how people read and respond to questions.

  • Start Basic! At the intro level, many students will be encountering these issues for the first time. Devise one or two openers that encourage people to consider the basic contexts and structures of the arguments.

  • Stay Brief! Online people tend to tune out after a few sentences. Your questions should be no more than 3 lines long.

  • Be a Balanced Critic. Devise one or two questions that get people to the heart of the theorists' arguments and their implications. Good critique considers both the strong points (i.e., contributions to the field, strong evidence, amazing logic, excellent writing, evocative film-making) and weaknesses (i.e., weak evidence, faulty logic, racist assumptions)

  • Be Provocative. Acting responsibly of course, devise one or two questions that might stir up debate. Try a devil's advocate position, or a thought experiment.

3) Send your discussion questions to the class via the Course Moodle Page. Give people time to consider them and possible responses.

  • Send Your Questions on Time! Your questions should get to the class by Sunday night for Tuesday's class, and by Wednesday afternoon for Thursday's class.

4) Be Prepared for Class! Arrive on time. Usually, I begin the class period with announcements and contextualizing comments, then I turn the discussion leadership over to you.

  • Have all class materials ready to consult for class. We'll look at the discussion questions together.

  • Devise a short speil that you and your co-leader deliver together in which you tell us such things as your general impressions, how the process went, how and why you came up with the questions, important contexts for the material.

  • Optionally, construct a brief thought exercise to generate discussion. Divide into groups, ask the class to write responses to a question, show an image, film clip, etc.

5) Be an Attentive Facilitator. Good facilitators open the discussion to everyone and yet find ways to keep the discussion on track. You won't be completely on your own! Consider me a co-facilitator.

  • Bring the discussion back on topic if it drifts

  • Refer the class to specific questions on the list

  • Refer back to a comment someone said earlier

  • Address people by name