Enhancing Critical Thinking through Class Discussion

Discussion-based approaches to teaching and learning are those that rely predominantly on dialogue and discourse rather than didactic transmission of information.  This guide discusses the theoretical foundations of discussion-based pedagogy, and offers user templates for three specific discussion-based strategies that can be adapted for higher education classrooms across disciplines. 

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Enhancing Critical Thinking through Class Discussion

Discussion-based pedagogies are dialogue-based approaches to teaching and learning that are intended to promote interactive and participatory classroom environments.  They empower students to take the lead in exploring complex and challenging issues, and to transform their classroom spaces into participatory democracies.  When using discussion-based strategies, instructors play the role of facilitator rather than “teacher,” and focus classroom efforts on encouraging dialogue and discourse rather than providing didactic transmission of information.  Inter-disciplinary classroom research in higher education suggests that the effective use of discussion-based pedagogies has many potential advantages in terms of resulting learning outcomes for students, including enhanced development of critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and understanding of diverse perspectives, amongst others. 

This guide dispels many common perceptions about potential disadvantages associated with discussion-based pedagogy, and provides user templates for three specific discussion-based strategies: (1) deliberative discussion, (2) structured controversy, and (3) problem-based discussion.  Each guide offers readers practical strategies to apply in classrooms across disciplines, including adaptable scripts, procedures, and evaluation approaches for each strategy.