No Tech and Low Tech: A Student Engagement Strategy for Facilitating Classroom Discussions

Think about it for a second. What's the most challenging aspect of facilitating a classroom discussion? Is it the excruciating silence that follows the question you asked the class? All eyes are on you and after three seconds of deafening silence, you feel compelled to coach them through the response you have in mind.

Is the most challenging aspect of facilitating a classroom discussion getting everyone involved. The quieter students don't make eye contact with you. They're hoping if they can't see you, you can't see them and call upon them for a response. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is having the same three students raise their hand. And of course you are so grateful that someone was listening, you call upon the faithful responders time and time again.

My favorite is the one student in the room that quickly processess the question before I've finished asking it and they've blurrted out the answer, preventing others from even having to consider the question. By the time you've completed this post, you will be able to apply a no tech and low tech strategy for engaging students in classroom discussions.

"Think-Pair-Share" is a common strategy used by K-12 instructors but not as well known among higher education instructors. It involves the following four steps:

Sounds simple enough, right? How might you use it in different contexts? The first and third variations follow the same format as previously described. However, you may be wondering why would the second variation from the left suggests forming a group of three. Why lose a several instructional minutes forming a group when talking to a neighbor is equally effective? In many adult evening classes, students have been working for 8 or more hours. They may arrive to your class on a full stomach from eating and driving in route to the class. After sitting for an hour or more, as the instructor, you'll notice their eyelids getting heavy. Rather than give the class an unstructured break to get the blood flowing, allow them to form a group of three (or more), move to a new location in the room, and begin their discussion. This variation of Think-Pair-Share now includes an academic brain break that keeps you on track toward your learning objective.

With a little bit of technology, you can also apply this strategy to your blended/hybrid classroom. How? "Think time" occurs by asking students to post a response in the online discussion forum. To ensure students have enough think time without being influenced by their peers' responses, look for an LMS feature that allows you to hide peer posts until after the student responds to the discussion question. My university uses Blackboard. One of the discussion forum options makes peer posts available after the student responds to the question. After think time is complete, peer posts are become visible, and the student responds to one or more of their peers. At the next class session, students are ready to participate in a discussion and share responses with the instructor. The instructor has a chance to extend the conversation into a variety of contexts beyond what the students have already discussed.

Simple ... but effective.