Determine and communicate learning objectives
For discussions to accomplish something valuable, they must have a purpose. Consider your goals for each discussion. How do the ideas and information to be discussed fit into the course as a whole? What skills, knowledge, perspectives, or sensibilities do you want students to walk away from the discussion with? Your goals for a particular discussion should be consistent with your course objectives and values as an instructor. You might, for example, want students to be able to:
Articulate the arguments made by the authors of two assigned readings and assess the evidence used to support them. Evaluate the arguments alone and in comparison with one another and discuss their contemporary policy implications. Or...
Formulate arguments and counter-arguments for a legal position. Or...
Imagine a particular approach to the design of cities and discuss the impact such a design would have on the lives of people in different socioeconomic categories. Suggest and justify design changes to optimize the benefits for the most number of people.
When you can clearly envision the purpose of the discussion, it is easier to formulate stimulating questions and an appropriate strategy for facilitating the discussion. Communicating your objectives to your students, moreover, helps to focus their thinking and motivate participation.


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