Student-Led Discussion Build Complex Understandings of Psychology Concepts

Author Information
Bill Pelz
Herkimer County Community College
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Herkimer County Community College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

A grading system developed by Herkimer County Community College that rewards thoughtful questions and thorough answers leads to a better understanding of course concepts.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 
The combination of student empowerment with explicit instructions and grading rubrics that emphasize creative thought supports the development of complex understandings of the course concepts. Discussion is deeper and richer. Students are more engaged and less likely to drop.
How does this practice relate to pillars?: 
learning effectiveness: In Bill Pelz's psychology courses at Herkimer County Community College, 50% of the course grade is based on participation in student-led discussions. In his courses, each student is responsible for leading a discussion on each chapter of the textbook. Student-led discussions not only insure that students will read and think about concepts in the textbook, they empower students and develop a culture of inquiry. Dr. Pelz provides the following description of a good question:

"A good question is one which will require students to use their critical analysis skills. A good question will require the respondent to demonstrate both factual knowledge of the content and a comprehension of how the knowledge applies to the social behavior of people. It should not be a simple 'look-up in the textbook' question or just a 'what's your opinion?' question."
He also specifically grades student questions and responses. The quality of student discussion threads can be influenced by the feedback they give to the students who post to it. Three things determine the quality of a discussion thread:
  1. The quality of the initial discussion question you ask. Up to 5 quality points can be awarded to each question based on the following criteria:
    • Relevance - your question must be relevant to the material in the unit of study.
    • Importance - your question must address a significant issue in the chapter.
    • Thought-provoking - your question must require high-level thought, not a simple "look-up" in the textbook.
    • Originality - you must not ask a question that is essentially the same as a question posed by another student.
    • Timely - Your question must be posted early in the Module so that the other students have an opportunity to respond and you have time to facilitate a good discussion thread.
  2. The quality of the response posts: Some students will make thoughtful and informative posts to student-led discussion, and some will give minimal responses. I grade the quality of the posts, and that grade influences the grade given the discussion leader. Feedback from the discussion leader can affect the quality of the discussion.
  3. The depth of the discussion thread: Discussion "depth" is determined by how many indents there are. If the discussion leader asks a question, and a student answers, that is a "level 1" discussion. If the discussion leader replies to the student - now it's a "level 2" discussion. If the student gets back to discussion leader - now it's "level 3". If another student joins in and responds to the student's last post - now it's "level 4". The more indents - the "deeper" the discussion thread. Of course, if the posts are low quality, depth is meaningless.
Student responses to discussion questions are graded based on the following criteria:
  • Is the answer correct?
  • Is the answer thorough?
  • Is the answer focused - to the point?
  • Is the answer well-organized?
  • Is the answer well-written?
  • Is the answer original?
The combination of student empowerment with explicit instructions and grading rubrics that emphasize creative thought supports the development of complex understandings of the course concepts.
References, supporting documents: 
Garrison, D. R. (2002). Cognitive presence for effective asynchronous online learning: the role of reflective inquiry, self-direction and metacognition. Boltons Landing, NY: Paper presented at the Fourth Annual Sloan ALN Workshop.
Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Bill Pelz, Professor of Psychology, Herkimer County Community College
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