Discussion Strategies, Teach@CUNY

Discussion Strategies: Sustained Groups and Online Discussions

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By Jody R. Rosen

As much as class discussions, whether in-person or online, can be dynamic, provocative, and edifying, when students share their ideas and no one responds, it can dishearten the poster and hamper future engagement. To avoid the dreaded online silence, and to create discussions throughout the semester, I based the blogging assignment on sustained groups.

Whether on City Tech’s OpenLab or, before its creation, on WordPress.com, I have used blogs to extend the classroom dynamic outside of class. The first time I taught Introduction to Women’s Writing, my blogging assignment designated students into one of six groups, and to a numbered position within the group for work throughout the semester. For each class session, one group member (#1s from all groups one day, #2s the next, etc) would write an online post responding to the reading, and the other group members would comment on that post to help develop the discussion that would shape the next class’s discussion. In class, then, those bloggers would guide the discussion—not as formally as Adele Kudish describes in her recent Visible Pedagogy post, but as the representative of their group’s ideas. And since commenters can’t comment when there is no post, those responsible for posting would do so not merely to complete their assignment but also to honor their responsibility to their group. The sustained conversations would allow students to develop a focus throughout the semester, and to learn from the interests and careful reading habits of their group-mates.

What I couldn’t anticipate in this semester-long blogging assignment was that students would refuse the onus of holding their group members responsible for posting, or posting on time. They saw it as a responsibility too uncomfortable for anyone but the professor.

For the rest of the semester, students blogged according to the schedule, but they commented according to their interests, not their group membership. I stand by the merits of the initial assignment, but I respected their refusal and accepted the discussions across groups that followed. In class, students collaborated in their groups and as a whole in a more robust way for having spent time writing about the readings on our course site in advance of class meetings. For the next iteration of the course, I omitted the group responsibility aspect to the blogging instructions, and in-class discussions continued to benefit from the further development of ideas that the pre-class online discussions generated among the students.

Jody R. Rosen is an associate professor of English and a co-director of the OpenLab at New York City College of Technology. She teaches composition, women’s literature, and fiction and poetry genre courses.

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