Communication & Collaboration in Academic Discussions

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will identify characteristics, elements, and features of effective communication and collaboration in academic discussions with diverse partners. We will discuss specific strategies for effective collaborative communication in discussion groups.

Cameron's Chatty Class

Cameron is a high school teacher in an advanced placement course who hopes to prepare her students for college. As such, she relies heavily on open discussion to supplement her lectures and help students understand and use effective communication strategies to engage other students in healthy and productive discourse. While these open discussion sessions may often seem natural and spontaneous, Cameron goes to great lengths to maximize their impact and efficacy. She wants her students to learn how to have mindful discussions with diverse topics and people. Sometimes the topics are controversial, and so she wants her class to know how to keep cool when tensions run high.

Preparation and Focus

When deciding to host a discussion session on a lesson, Cameron prepares herself and the students so they are all focused and stay on topic. It can be tough to predict which direction a discussion may go, but she makes an outline or list of details, prompts or suggestions about the content so she can bring the conversation back on point and ensure she covers everything on the agenda. Her primary role in the discussion is to collaborate with the class, to provide guidance and feedback and to help students improve their communication skills in an academic setting.

Students actively engaging in discussion are encouraged to avoid tangents that take the discussion off topic. She has a poster on the wall highlighting logical fallacies so they know about the types of faulty reasoning and in order to help activate their reasoning and critical thinking skills. Students are given advance notice about a class discussion, just like an assignment, so they know the topic and have an opportunity to prepare or research as needed. Occasionally a lecture will inspire a spontaneous discussion moment and Cameron is prepared for this possibility.

Roles and Guidelines

Cameron knows her students are going to benefit from having an active role in both the discussion itself and the guidelines under which the discussion will take place. Since discussion is an instructional method she uses regularly, she wants her class to know that they are active agents in their own education. They know she will grade them on participation in the discussion and that their role is to contribute to the body of knowledge shared by the class. By collaborating and sharing ideas, students become more effective communicators and prepare for more advanced academic discussions.

At the beginning of the year, she worked out a series of guidelines for open class discussion. In one of their very first class discussions of the year, she asked them to collaborate on developing a set of discussion guidelines. Students offered ideas about what makes a courteous and productive conversational environment, and she listed them as they were offered. The students created a Discussion Guidelines poster with these suggestions that everyone can reference as a reminder to avoid interrupting, giving monologues, changing topics or getting too emotional.

Occasionally student voices can overlap in a discussion, so it is important to take turns.
image of a group discussion

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