Structuring Effective Class Discussion in Undergraduate Stem Classes: Examples From an Introductory Biology Course

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Mark V. Tran


Class discussions have been shown to provide numerous benefits to undergraduate science students, including fostering the development of critical thinking and communication skills, enhancing student understanding of course topics, and correcting misconceptions.  While they are effective pedagogical tools for undergraduate science classrooms, special attention must be given to structuring class discussions in a manner that accomplishes the aforementioned goals, while at the same time providing students with interesting and challenging discussion topics that foster their learning both inside and outside the classroom.  This manuscript describes the manner in which classroom discussions were used in a semester-long, introductory biology classroom, and provides specific examples of discussions used to enhance student learning.  To encourage participation and preparedness among students in the class, discussions were structured using a multi-step plan.  Students first completed individual readings and assignments outside of class.  Students then worked in small groups to complete a new, more complex task.  Finally, students shared the results of their small group activities with the class to foster discussion involving the entire class.

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What works in the classroom