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Ways to Run a Profitable Discussion

A discussion is not a debate. Debates feature an attempt to persuade an opponent to one's own point of view. The accuracy of one's viewpoint is of little importance. A discussion is not a bull session. Such sessions are mostly for entertainment purposes. A group discussion is more is more exploratory and tentative. Participants are searching for a better understanding, new directions discovered.

Productive discussions require a cooperative effort among all participants. This includes both the preparation for and the process of discussion. The following is a guideline for fruitful discussions.

I. Preparation

Students will prepare a worksheet that helps focus their reading and organize their participation in discussion. This worksheet will be prepared both while reading the assignment and after completion of it. The worksheet should include the following parts.

A. Important New Terms and Concepts. Define any you know and note any of which you are unclear. These can be useful starting points for discussion.

B. Prepare a Point Outline. This section features key material presented throughout the reading. This should include the importance of the work (i.e. how it fits into the scientific framework of a field), key methods used, major results, and important implications of the work.

C. Present a Summary of the Author's Main Point. In just a very few sentences, summarize the author's main point.

D. Evaluate the Article. There are several areas that should be evaluated and are featured below.

1. Presentation. Is the article clearly written? Is it internally consistent.

2. Content. Are alternative hypotheses or explanations considered? Are data adequately supportive of the conclusions? Are the data properly analyzed? Is there any bias?

3. Implications. Does the article adequately explore the implications of this work in its appropriate field? Should we be conservative in our acceptance of these results? Should we be a bit liberal in our acceptance of the results because they contain important implications and new directions for research?

4. Applications. What applications are possible for this research? This could focus on either basic or applied matters.

5. Your Position. Summarize your view of the article. What should be done next? Was the article effective? What could be done to improve It?

II. Discussion Process

Material for discussion can be drawn from the worksheet. It may be best to start with some basics and move on from there. Whatever directions are taken, there are many different roles in discussion. These will be summarized below.

A. Initiating. Introduce a topic for discussion. This could be term definition, article summary, data interpretation, offering of alternative explanation or implication, etc. Subject matter will vary with stage of the discussion.

B. Asking for or giving information or reactions.

C. Restating comments. If a group member offers a comment that may not clear, then members may restate a comment to ensure the comment was clearly stated.

D. Comparing ideas. Members should feel free to express and compare ideas even if unsure about them. This also involves good listening skills. This allows for development of one's ideas.

E. Synthesizing and summarizing ideas. Upon covering considerable ground, a useful role is to tie together what has been discussed. This may be material for further discussion or it may allow for a useful transition point.

F. Gatekeeping. This allows a member to widen participation among all group members by giving less assertive members a chance to contribute. It also allows for a change in discursion topic if the topic at hand is floundering or otherwise unproductive. From jebersole@cc.colorado.edu Wed Dec 8 00:00:00 EDT 1993

Ways to Run a Profitable Discussion

A discussion is not a debate. Debates feature an attempt to persuade an opponent to one's own point of view. The accuracy of one's viewpoint is of little importance. A discussion is not a bull session. Such sessions are mostly for entertainment purposes. A group discussion is more is more exploratory and tentative. Participants are searching for a better understanding, new directions discovered.

Productive discussions require a cooperative effort among all participants. This includes both the preparation for and the process of discussion. The following is a guideline for fruitful discussions.

I. Preparation

Students will prepare a worksheet that helps focus their reading and organize their participation in discussion. This worksheet will be prepared both while reading the assignment and after completion of it. The worksheet should include the following parts.

A. Important New Terms and Concepts. Define any you know and note any of which you are unclear. These can be useful starting points for discussion.

B. Prepare a Point Outline. This section features key material presented throughout the reading. This should include the importance of the work (i.e. how it fits into the scientific framework of a field), key methods used, major results, and important implications of the work.

C. Present a Summary of the Author's Main Point. In just a very few sentences, summarize the author's main point.

D. Evaluate the Article. There are several areas that should be evaluated and are featured below.

1. Presentation. Is the article clearly written? Is it internally consistent.

2. Content. Are alternative hypotheses or explanations considered? Are data adequately supportive of the conclusions? Are the data properly analyzed? Is there any bias?

3. Implications. Does the article adequately explore the implications of this work in its appropriate field? Should we be conservative in our acceptance of these results? Should we be a bit liberal in our acceptance of the results because they contain important implications and new directions for research?

4. Applications. What applications are possible for this research? This could focus on either basic or applied matters.

5. Your Position. Summarize your view of the article. What should be done next? Was the article effective? What could be done to improve It?

II. Discussion Process

Material for discussion can be drawn from the worksheet. It may be best to start with some basics and move on from there. Whatever directions are taken, there are many different roles in discussion. These will be summarized below.

A. Initiating. Introduce a topic for discussion. This could be term definition, article summary, data interpretation, offering of alternative explanation or implication, etc. Subject matter will vary with stage of the discussion.

B. Asking for or giving information or reactions.

C. Restating comments. If a group member offers a comment that may not clear, then members may restate a comment to ensure the comment was clearly stated.

D. Comparing ideas. Members should feel free to express and compare ideas even if unsure about them. This also involves good listening skills. This allows for development of one's ideas.

E. Synthesizing and summarizing ideas. Upon covering considerable ground, a useful role is to tie together what has been discussed. This may be material for further discussion or it may allow for a useful transition point.

F. Gatekeeping. This allows a member to widen participation among all group members by giving less assertive members a chance to contribute. It also allows for a change in discursion topic if the topic at hand is floundering or otherwise unproductive. From jebersole@cc.colorado.edu Wed Dec 8 00:00:00 EDT 1993

Ways to Run a Profitable Discussion

A discussion is not a debate. Debates feature an attempt to persuade an opponent to one's own point of view. The accuracy of one's viewpoint is of little importance. A discussion is not a bull session. Such sessions are mostly for entertainment purposes. A group discussion is more is more exploratory and tentative. Participants are searching for a better understanding, new directions discovered.

Productive discussions require a cooperative effort among all participants. This includes both the preparation for and the process of discussion. The following is a guideline for fruitful discussions.

I. Preparation

Students will prepare a worksheet that helps focus their reading and organize their participation in discussion. This worksheet will be prepared both while reading the assignment and after completion of it. The worksheet should include the following parts.

A. Important New Terms and Concepts. Define any you know and note any of which you are unclear. These can be useful starting points for discussion.

B. Prepare a Point Outline. This section features key material presented throughout the reading. This should include the importance of the work (i.e. how it fits into the scientific framework of a field), key methods used, major results, and important implications of the work.

C. Present a Summary of the Author's Main Point. In just a very few sentences, summarize the author's main point.

D. Evaluate the Article. There are several areas that should be evaluated and are featured below.

1. Presentation. Is the article clearly written? Is it internally consistent.

2. Content. Are alternative hypotheses or explanations considered? Are data adequately supportive of the conclusions? Are the data properly analyzed? Is there any bias?

3. Implications. Does the article adequately explore the implications of this work in its appropriate field? Should we be conservative in our acceptance of these results? Should we be a bit liberal in our acceptance of the results because they contain important implications and new directions for research?

4. Applications. What applications are possible for this research? This could focus on either basic or applied matters.

5. Your Position. Summarize your view of the article. What should be done next? Was the article effective? What could be done to improve It?

II. Discussion Process

Material for discussion can be drawn from the worksheet. It may be best to start with some basics and move on from there. Whatever directions are taken, there are many different roles in discussion. These will be summarized below.

A. Initiating. Introduce a topic for discussion. This could be term definition, article summary, data interpretation, offering of alternative explanation or implication, etc. Subject matter will vary with stage of the discussion.

B. Asking for or giving information or reactions.

C. Restating comments. If a group member offers a comment that may not clear, then members may restate a comment to ensure the comment was clearly stated.

D. Comparing ideas. Members should feel free to express and compare ideas even if unsure about them. This also involves good listening skills. This allows for development of one's ideas.

E. Synthesizing and summarizing ideas. Upon covering considerable ground, a useful role is to tie together what has been discussed. This may be material for further discussion or it may allow for a useful transition point.

F. Gatekeeping. This allows a member to widen participation among all group members by giving less assertive members a chance to contribute. It also allows for a change in discursion topic if the topic at hand is floundering or otherwise unproductive. G. Sponsoring and encouraging. A relaxed atmosphere is essential and this is a good place to ensure its presence. Be supportive of each person's contributions and encourage participation by others. If you disagree with a person's view, do so in a productive manner. Compliment contribution by others. Make eye contact with all group members, not just selected members. It is an incredibly important skill to bring out the best in all people around you.

H. Listening. Listen to all ideas presented. Explore them and offer reactions if possible.

I. Tension-relieving. A little bit of comedy can help relax the group.

There are several dysfunctional roles in group discussion. These are presented below.

A. Dominating behavior. Some members may dwell too much on their area of expertise. While it is useful to offer any special knowledge, it is just as useful to remember not to overdo it. domination of the discussion even in the absence of expertise should also be avoided. Use some useful roles instead.

B. Uninvolving behavior. Avoid showing signs of uninvolvement because they can dampen the entire discussion.

C. Miscellaneous. Avoid all put downs. Avoid excessive joking around. Avoid apologies for one's views or ideas.
Summary
Group discussion is a valuable tool for development of a scientist. Discussion will occur in hallways, laboratories, nature, national meetings, and more structured settings. Discussion goes a long way toward advancement in science and makes science fun. The goal of discussion is to improve and share one's understanding of a topic through discussion among colleagues. These skills will also be important in other aspects of life. This handout aims to improve each student's abilities as a member of a group discussion.

Material for this handout originally comes from William Faucett Hill, 1969 Learning Through Discussion, Sage Publications. Material was modified by Judith Hansen and Craig Nelson of Indiana University, Bloomington. This version is much shortened and modified from the versions of Hansen & Nelsen.