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Difficult Topics Transcript [PDF]
Create guidelines for participating in class discussions as part of your syllabus or separate document, and discuss them in class. Consider having students create the guidelines themselves. Go over them as often as necessary during a course. Be sure to include consequences for failure to abide by them such as being dismissed from the class.
Set expectations for class discussions such as the likelihood that students will hear points-of-view with which they will not agree. Encourage them to approach discussions as a learning experience and not a battle.
Have a plan and purpose for discussions. Think ahead of time about what directions certain topics may go during discussions, and how you can bring them back to your learning goals.
Anticipate what issues might come up with discussions and even rehearse what your response might be.
Intervene when discussions get too heated. “Let’s stop a minute. Yelling is not part of our agreement…” Humor can quickly lower the pressure and bring everyone back together as a group. Consider having the class take a minute to write their observations of a heated discussion. What points were made and what points were made without evidence?
When someone gets overly emotional, stop them, and ask them to dig deeper into the specifics behind their emotion and to defend their point-of-view with clear evidence. Remind those who are violating discussion guidelines that they are doing so if they persist.
Get to know your students--their names and their points-of-view--so that you can intervene more effectively when necessary.
Follow-up with individuals, or the whole class, after any challenging discussions. Email them, or post on our discussion board, or see them in-person. Summarize your assessment of the discussion including the points made, and encourage them to continue exploring the issue.
Related IDEA Materials
The Lowly Syllabus [PDF]
Curtis Newbold suggests an infographic approach.
Infographic sample by Newbold:
Some graphical examples from the University of Texas, Austin
(distributed via ShareAlike Creative Commons license)
By Tona Hangen:
Syllabus project at the University of Virginia
Sticky syllabi: Creating inspiring documents through the SUCCESs model
Extreme Makeover, Syllabus Edition
Graphical Display of Student Learning Objectives
Death to the Syllabus
Universal Design for Learning and your Syllabus
Universal Design for Learning: A Rubric for Evaluating Your Course Syllabus
Does the Document Matter? The Evolving Role of Syllabi in Higher Education
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