Semester discussion principles (as mutually agreed in class)

INF 384M, Fall 2013
Mutually agreed discussion principles
As collaboratively generated in our first class session, here are the principles that we shall try to uphold
throughout this semester.
We value the following qualities in class discussions:
 Humor and levity.
 Inclusion of all people and all perspectives.
 Constructive comments and rejoinders (critical but helpful).
 Respectful disagreements (it is acceptable, even productive, to disagree, but differences of
opinion are not grounds for scorn or derision).
 Thoughtful and considered contributions, not just talking to talk (although indecision and
confusion, as well as not-fully-formed ideas are welcome).
 Well-paced conversations that enable topics to be explored fully without dragging on unduly.
 Prepared discussion participants who have read and considered the assigned materials and are
ready to contribute.
 Conversations that respond to previous remarks, instead of everyone saying their own piece
sequentially. Listening.
 A little silence when appropriate.
 Cross-fertilization of ideas, perspectives, and experiences.
 An organic flow to the conversation, so that ideas can develop in a flexible way.
We dislike and try to avoid the following in class discussions:
 Soapboxing, lecturing without listening.
 Snark and eyerolling; condescension.
 Unexplained jargon.
 Extreme tangents.
 Unexamined personal biases or prejudices.
 Arrogance.
 Closed-mindedness.
 Excessive silences, when people are able to contribute but choose not to do so (because of
personal indifference to the material, or other individual reasons).
 Lack of respect for others and other opinions.
 Domination of the conversation by one person or group (including the instructor!).
 Interruptions, talking over others.
 Questions or discussions that are too broad or abstract, without getting anywhere.
 A “must win” attitude: trying to convince others of your position without listening to their side.
To achieve the qualities we value and avoid those we dislike, discussion participants should strive to:
 Listen actively and carefully.
 Reference and build on the ideas of others (both the readings and others’ discussion
 Prepare for class: read the material, think about it, and identify some things to say (could be
questions, not only positions or comments). As the discussion proceeds, make notes so that you
don’t forget what you want to say. Then: make sure to act on what you’ve prepared and
contribute it to the discussion.
Take responsibility for the pacing of the discussion: if you feel like things are dragging, move
them along; if you feel like things have moved on too quickly, move it back.
Support each other with enthusiasm and nonverbal gestures. (E.g., Great point! Yes, but what
about this?)
Don’t interrupt other people.
Don’t get enamored with the sound of your own voice.
Be tolerant.
Relax and breathe.
Be flexible and open-minded.
Use judgment when speaking: if you have something to say, don’t be afraid to say it; if you don’t
have anything to say, don’t waste our time.
Focus on what’s being said (the argument) and not who is saying it (the person).
Cut the facilitator some slack: they are trying just like you are.
Be a good neighbor.
Look for signs that someone else wants to talk; be aware of who has spoken and who wants to
To achieve the qualities we value and avoid those we dislike, discussion facilitator should strive to:
 Be prepared, but also flexible.
 Be sensitive to different learning and teaching styles (think about things like sending out
questions in advance, using small groups, using visual materials, and so on).
 Listen.
 Have a good grasp of the readings: it’s okay to be flummoxed by them, but how? why? Engage
others in your difficulties and help us all understand them.
 Encourage everyone to speak; keep track of participation.
 Incorporate specific references to readings.
 Bring people together.
 Take control when needed to move the discussion forward—but don’t be a dictator.
 Inspire critical thinking.
 Allow the conversation to flow; but don’t let it digress to much (stay on topic).
 Attempt theoretical questions.
 Have a backup plan! Prepare more than you think you’ll need.
 Prevent interruptions.
 Touch on multiple themes: not just a single idea or concept.
 Be inclusive.
 Leave some open time at the end of a discussion period so that people can consider and add
anything that seems missing.