Case Study: Class Discussion

I found "college etiquette" tips about class discussion on various university webpages and adapted them from:

In a college course, you are frequently graded on your participation in class discussion. Though jumping into the fray might be intimidating at first, proposing and defending your thoughts can be among the most exhilarating of college experiences. However, it is wise to be conscious of unwritten etiquette when participating in a fruitful class discussion. Read on to learn some of it.

Class discussions should provide a forum for free and open expression of your ideas and opinions concerning the works we have read, their context, and their relevance today. Other students may sometimes discuss views on political and social issues with which you do not agree. Open disagreement is fine and can be extremely productive, as long as it does not disrupt class. Criticism in class must be given in a constructive way that respects the opinions and rights of others.

Listen thoughtfully to what your classmates have to say and present yourself as an engaged listener by nodding, making eye contact with the speaker, etc. Even if you are not interested, at least feign interest. Yes, there are mornings when you are hung over, tired or grumpy. That being said, if you don't want to be there then don't come or drop the course. Let's face it, all you are really doing is trying to expunge yourself of the guilt that comes once you calculate that each class costs your parents about $200. A good discussion is an exchange of ideas, and that starts by hearing what you may not have considered before. If you attend, show the class and the professor that you are engaged and paying attention at all times. Never interrupt another student while they are speaking. Do not engage in distracting or disrespectful behavior while someone else is speaking. If a class promises to be a Yawn Fest, we suggest fortifying yourself beforehand with some Good, Strong Coffee. And yes, Dear Reader, if it is a small class (or a larger class wherein you are likely to be Called Upon), it is very rude indeed not to Follow Along (not to mention probably Rather Detrimental to Your Grade).

Be respectful in your response. Nobody says you have to agree with your classmates. In fact, you might hear things that make you wonder what planet they are from. But if you really have an intelligent point to make, you should be able to present it without resorting to obvious disgust or name-calling. Limit the length of your comment so others will have a chance to talk. Though it is easy to get carried away as you passionately defend your view, keeping your remark to the point will be appreciated by all. Stay on topic. Sometimes, college class discussions have a way of veering away from the subject at hand to off-topic political issues. Though it can be tempting to jump in, limiting your remarks to class material shows the professor that you have done the reading and know what you are talking about. Watch the body language of your fellow classmates. If they are tapping their toes and rolling their eyes, it's time to yield the floor. Apologize if you have made a remark that somebody finds offensive. Though it may seem harmless to you, people bring different cultural frames of reference to a class discussion. These differences can become a big opportunity to learn if approached with an open mind. Be aware of what language you use. While the statement "This book is @#*%ing great!" might perfectly express what you are thinking, professors may feel that strong language is not appropriate in an academic setting.

Respect the professor's procedure for running class discussions. Often, especially in small classes, discussion is open and it is not necessary to raise your hand before speaking. However, if your professor likes to call on students, allow yourself to be called on before speaking. Don't keep your hand in the air the entire time. Choose a time when you have a point you particularly want to make, and then ask to be called on.
  1. Write down one item you agreed with.
  2. Write down something you disagree with or have a question on.
  3. Some of the statements give an implied negative effect. Choose one of these, underline the statement, and discuss how you would design a study or series of scientific studies to assess the validity of the statement.