Facilitating Effective Discussions

Having discussions in class is one of the most common and embedded methods in university teaching. Discussions can allow for deep and active learning and stimulate critical thinking through interaction, peer to peer learning and the exchange of ideas.

But what constitutes an effective discussion? How can we set up for different types of discussions?

This course will provide an overview of how we can effectively plan and facilitate in-class and online discussions to enhance student learning. It will explore pedagogical approaches underpinning discussions, facilitation techniques and a range of activities that can be employed to achieve vibrant discussions.

We invite you to share your experiences and best practice tips on this topic to get this discussion rolling!

Course Dates

This course will run from Monday, 25 March to Thursday, 28 March 2019 through this blog. There will be 4 blog posts, one per day, that will take about 15-20 minutes to work through.


  • Day 1 – Intro to the discussion approach – the what and why
  • Day 2 – How to facilitate effective face to face discussions
  • Day 3 – Facilitating discussions in online environments
  • Day 4 – Broader facilitation challenges and solutions


Karlene Dickens is a Learning Technologist with the ANU Online Team. Karlene loves the fluid and dynamic nature of facilitating group discussions and is continuously inspired by the transformation and growth that occurs for both the group as a whole and the individuals within it. Karlene has facilitated numerous groups in diverse settings both face-to-face and online, including corporate, community and university environments.


Rebecca Ng is a Learning Technologist with the ANU Online team. She describes herself as a “partial cyborg” as she believes that technology has changed the way she thinks and approaches her daily life. More importantly, it has changed the way we perceive and learn. Hence, she is interested in researching new pedagogical approaches that can effectively integrate different technologies to support higher education.


Technology-Enhanced Learning in Higher Education Certificate

Go here to learn more on getting recognised for your participation in coffee courses.

All are welcome

We welcome all staff, including tutors, demonstrators, professional staff, and academics at the Australian National University and beyond to join us for this course. ANU staff can enrol on HORUS for recognition for completing this course (look for a course called “Facilitating Effective Discussions ” in the Training Catalogue.)


Please feel free to contact EdDesign@anu.edu.au with any questions.

A quick reminder about the blog

We’ve added a new feature to the blog, where you can subscribed to get notifications by email of responses to your comments. This is an option you can choose when making a comment, and will hopefully help to support more effective discussions. We’d love to know your thoughts about it!

3 thoughts on “Facilitating Effective Discussions

  1. For me, an effective class discussion is one which:
    a) generates thought (for anyone not contributing in writing/speech) and the articulation of ideas (for anyone who is contributing)
    b) has initiations by someone other than the teacher at some point; engages students in to and fro
    c) explores the current topic area and/or issues/topics/problems which are part of the general topic area (perhaps things which will arise in future weekly topics or have arisen in previous ones)
    d) digs deep – it doesn’t wander off, get dominated by one or two people, or become trivial
    e) brings in viewpoints, ideas or experiences other than those presented in class materials, especially students’ own

    Generally speaking, it is more difficult to generate and manage discussions with large classes. I think it’s important to allow people a chance to contribute through small and large groups, but also to understand that just because someone isn’t talking/writing in a discussion, it doesn’t mean they aren’t finding the discussion stimulating and learning from it.

    1. Hi Susy, thanks for sharing those thoughts! Managing discussions in large classes is such a huge challenge – hopefully this is something that we can chat about more when the course starts next week. I think there are some good suggestions on this from the previous course about engaging students in large lectures – the details are here: http://anuonline.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2017/06/29/day-2-discussion-and-activity-strategies/

      I particularly liked your point that not speaking out loud doesn’t necessarily mean that students are not thinking, learning, reflecting. I struggle with this as a teacher because I am quite outspoken myself, and often need to remind myself that other people have different ways of engaging and learning. There was a really interesting discussion about this in our course from a while back on student engagement, which critiqued the idea that all engagement has to be visible. We discussed a great paper called “The tyranny of participation” by Gourlay (2015). It might be of interest? http://anuonline.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2017/02/13/engaging-students-online-day-4/

      Looking very much forward to this course! 😀

  2. I am really excited for this coffee course! I can’t wait to “level up” my facilitation skills by participating in the comments. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to manage and foster quality discussion in online environments – especially, as Susy mentions, at larger scales! My most challenging experience was as a facilitator for a MOOC with 15,000 students, and trying desperately to try to foster some deep discussions with so many people! Thanks Karlene and Rebecca for this topic – can’t wait!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *