Making the most of discussion


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University and College Teaching Making the most of discussion


Dr Barbara Gross Davis: Author

Barbara Gross Davis is currently Vice President of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (United States regional accrediting agency).

She received her BA, MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also served as an administrator in a variety of capacities for 30 years. As Director, Dean, Assistant Vice Provost, and Assistant Vice Chancellor, she worked to improve the teaching experiences of staff by developing, implementing, evaluating and overseeing programs and services to support teaching and learning. Her other responsibilities included enhancing the undergraduate educational experience from entry through graduation and promoting academic success through support services for students who have historically been underrepresented in higher education in the United States.

Barbara's areas of interest have focused on instructional improvement, assessment, faculty development, evaluation of teaching, and program and curriculum evaluation, all in higher education. She has written books, articles, reports, and book chapters about these topics and has conducted workshops and seminars on teaching and learning for faculty and graduate students in North America and Asia. Her most recent book is Tools for Teaching, 2nd edition (Jossey-Bass, 2009), a compendium of effective strategies for college teaching, grounded in research findings and the best practices of faculty.


David Jaques: Reviewer

David Jaques has had an abiding interest in improving learning and teaching since his student experience of traditional methods of teaching. Despite his disillusionment, he achieved first and second degrees in Engineering and an Academic Diploma in the Psychology and Sociology of Education from London University.

His career continued at the University of London Teaching Methods Unit, at the University of Hertfordshire as Head of Communication Skills, followed by Head of the Educational Methods Unit at Oxford Brookes University, before his early retirement in 1996. He has run workshops around the world with support from The British Council and more recently in Central and Eastern Europe with the Soros Foundation. He has also undertaken consultancies on Quality Assessment, and acted as External Examiner on Initial Training Courses for Academic Staff.

David is particularly interested in how to enrich teaching and learning for both students and teachers through active learning methods, learning through experience, cross-cultural learning (a concept he regards as relevant to interactions between teachers and students!) and the role of the imagination in learning.

He is a Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA), the Higher Education Academy (HEA), a member of the Council for the Society for Gaming and Simulation in Education and Training (SAGSET) and of the Steering Committee of ICEL, the International Consortium for Experiential Learning.

David has contributed to a number of books and training materials on teaching and learning. Among his recent contributions are a manual on peer-assisted learning, and (with Gilly Salmon) the 4th edition of his book Learning in Groups – a handbook for face-to-face and online environments. He has also written on topics such as part-time teachers, student attrition, learning games/simulations, action learning sets, cross-cultural communication skills, project work and the art of networking.


Dr Rhona Sharpe: Contributor

Rhona Sharpe has 20 years' experience in online teaching and is currently based at the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University, where she develops and runs workshops and online courses in topics including researching and evaluating e-learning and online tutoring. She also tutors for the Open University on practice-based research in educational technology. Rhona believes that effective use of technology is led by teachers, particularly in their roles as designers for learning.


Wilma Alexander: Accessibility advisor

Wilma Alexander is part of the Learning Services team at the University of Edinburgh, supporting the use of online tools and technologies across the university. She has a special interest in usable and accessible digital practice, tutors on usability and accessibility for the university's Master's in Digital Education, and promotes the use of online activities for inclusive teaching and learning in the context of staff development.

Completing the activities in this course will contribute to your ability to:

  • Analyze the characteristics of effective and less effective discussions
  • Describe what is involved in preparing for a discussion
  • Plan ways to create a comfortable and supportive learning environment in which students share diverse viewpoints with openness and respect for each others' opinions
  • Identify strategies to start a discussion, including posing good questions
  • Identify strategies to guide a discussion, including knowing when to step in
  • Decide which structured discussion techniques are appropriate for your classes
  • Organize and implement effective online discussions
  • Create and carry out a plan to evaluate the quality of the discussions you facilitate and then, based on the results, assess what is needed to make improvements.

The diagram below explains the chronology of the course.

The University and College Teaching program has been developed in conjunction with the following institutions:

  • University of Birmingham, UK
  • Brunel University, UK
  • City University, UK
  • Cranfield University, UK
  • Durham University, UK
  • Forman Christian College, Pakistan
  • Indiana University, USA
  • Institute of Education, University of London, UK
  • Minnesota State Colleges & Universities, USA
  • NUI Galway, Ireland
  • NUI Maynooth, Ireland
  • New York Institute of Technology, USA
  • Nottingham Trent University, UK
  • University of South Florida, USA
  • University College London, UK
  • Western Kentucky University, USA