Academic Technology Center
Teaching with Technology Collaboratory

Encouraging Class Discussion

Teaching Goal

To increase the depth and regularity of student-teacher and student-student discussions both in and out of the classroom.

Benefits of Addressing - Research and Theoretical Base

Method 1. Provide Variety in Your Instruction

Primary Techniques Example/Rationale
Utilize the Classroom Performance System (CPS) to anonymously prompt student responses in class. Use of classroom clickers can lead to a more active classroom in which students participate more regularly (Demetry, 2005; Gross, Szekrenyes, & Tuduce, 2003).
Employ interactive learning objects as a means of probing studentsí understanding of variables. The Academic Technology Center (ATC) has the ability to custom-develop learning objects to your specifications. Please email us at or stop by the ATC in Fuller Labs 117 to setup an appointment to discuss your needs.

Learning objects spanning many disciplines are freely available on the Internet, especially at repository sites such as:

Learning Objects created at WPI are available for use in the Learning Objects Repository.

Vary your teaching methods so that lecture is interspersed with the use of visuals, group activities, role playing, multimedia demonstrations, games, online activities, and other instructional techniques that generate interest and interaction. The use of a single mode of instruction, such as lecture, PowerPoint, or group discussion, often leads to complacency and boredom in the classroom. By varying the methods you use each class meeting, students will be more engaged (Forsyth & McMillan, 1991; Tomlinson, 1999).

In addition, using technology has been shown to increase student interest and motivation. Integrating the Internet, CPS, audio, video, images, charts, graphs and other visual and active stimuli into your instruction increases student motivation.
Pose questions to your students before a class session is held using the myWPI discussion boards. Posing questions to students prior to the class session gets them thinking about the content ahead of time, with the expectation that they will be responsible for having thought about an answer before class even begins.

Method 2. Extend In-Class Conversations to the Internet

Primary Techniques Example/Rationale
Use the discussion boards in myWPI to pose questions that extend the in-class discussion. Many students are reluctant to actively participate when in class for any number of reasons. By promoting an online discussion that either continues the in-class discussion, or even extends it through new prompts, enables more students to participate, thus exposing all students in the class to a broader and more diverse range of perspectives.

You are also able to form online groups that facilitate small group discussion online. If you have a large lecture class, this is an effective way to bring small group discussion into the fold.
Invite guest experts to answer questions and facilitate discussions about a topic using the myWPI discussion boards. The asynchronous nature of discussion boards enables faculty members to make good use of guest experts who may be a long distance away from campus, or whose schedules do not accommodate the class meeting times.

Guest experts are able to login to myWPI, and access the discussion boards to answer student questions, identify problems with student inquiries and content, and as practitioners in the field, they can help to bring greater relevance to the content being studied.
Encourage students to build a personal webpage in the courseís myWPI website. Encouraging students to visit one anotherís personal web page enables them to get to know one another better. Doing so allows students to make personal and professional connections they may not have known existed previously, thus facilitating future communication and collaboration.


Cheng, X. (2003). Socratic method for engineering education. CDTL Brief, 6(10): 1-8.

Demetry, C. (2005). Use of educational technology to transform the 50-minute lecture: Is student response dependent on learning style? Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, CITY, STATE, PAGES.

Forsyth, D.R. & McMillan, J.H (1991). Practical proposals for motivating students. In R.J. Menges & M.D. Svinicki (Eds.), College Teaching: From Theory to Practice: no. 45. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Gross, T., Szekrenyes, L., & Tuduce, C. (2003). Increasing student participation in a networked classroom Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, Boulder, CO, 9-13.

Kassop, M. (2003, May/June). Ten ways online education matches, or surpasses, face-to-face learning. The Technology Source. Retrieved February 1st, 2005 from

Rovai, A.P. (2004). A constructivist approach to online college learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 7, 79-93.

mith, R.C., & Taylor, E.F. (1995). Teaching physics online. American Journal of Physics, 63: 1090- 1096.

Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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Last modified: May 07, 2008, 14:00 EDT
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