How to create a level discussion field in schools: 7 reasons to use Discuto before you start a classroom discussion.

We all know discussions at schools, high schools and universities that are based on books, articles, reports, news, etc.  In the best case such discussions enrich our views on the issues, help us to deal with and understand the chain of arguments behind diverging views and educate us in the art of deliberation.

While the potential merits are obvious, it is a challenge for teachers to organise, moderate and evaluate such discussions as the classroom is far from being an ideal environment for this:

  • Classroom discussions are often dominated by a handful of opinionated and extrovert students crowding out all others.

  • On other times it is difficult to get the discussion going at all if none of the “usual suspects” jumps onto the topic and the others remain in “silent mode.”

  • Some students may struggle with insufficient time to weigh the arguments and to respond adequately.

  • Discussion brings up unforeseen issues which might have been a good starting point for presenting more material if they had been foreseen.

  • Some student may not have read the text at all.

  • Other students who missed class may not have an opportunity to make up a traditional discussion.

Even if the discussion works alright, oral discussions are difficult to evaluate as the content, outcome and participation is not documented. It is in the nature of such assessments that  views might diverge widely between professors and students.

We have been quite surprised to notice that teachers in the US have started discussions - but this has spread to other regions quickly - on Discuto. With hindsight, the use case is obvious: Instead of just asking students to prepare for a classroom discussion by reading something, the text to be read or the questions to be answered are uploaded to Discuto and students are invited to discuss it online whenever and wherever they find time to do this. Classmates and teachers are informed whenever new contributions are posted and may join the debate. Clear instructions may also help to have lively discussion.

The advantages are obvious:

  1. Discuto gives every student the same opportunity to join the discussion and bring in their views, perceptions and perspectives.

  2. The discussion brings up the controversial issues or statements that may then be again discussed in the classroom. As a teacher you easily observe which concepts are already well understood, the issues students are struggling with and those where diverging views dominate. Diverging views might prevail even after another classroom discussion but for the right reasons - a lack of information or an insufficient grasp of arguments should not remain the reason for this. Anyway, analysing the discussion highlights issues to focus during the offline discussion. Knowing this advance gives time to prepare for the topics.  

  3. Students do have sufficient time to think about the issues under scrutiny and to come up with the responses that correspond with their thinking instead of being not able to immediately formulate the proper answer that - you may know the situation - pops up on your way back home.

  4. The participation is easy to evaluate as the level and quality of participation is visible for everybody - even hours, days and months after the discussion happened. The evaluation of participation thus can be made without hurry having all information on the contribtions of students at hand. You may even give direct feedback on the system and discuss your assessment with students giving them a say as well.

  5. It is easy to involve students in classroom discussion based on what they posted online. This may help to directly involve shyer students in the real life discussion.

  6. It is also easy for absent students to join in the discussion that would have otherwise been missed.

  7. The consensus meter also allows students to try to reach a mutual agreement, and if not, they can agree or disagree with one another with immediate feedback on the level of agreement.  

We are really pleased by these innovations and encourage further experimentation. Whenever a new approach is tested, this may lead to further adaptations of Discuto to better support this use case.   

About the author :

Hannes Leo

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