Learn more about The Discussion Project

The Discussion Project, developed by leading educators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a professional learning course for teachers leading classrooms in grades 6-12 and college instructors. It is designed to improve discussion pedagogy as part of facilitating a more engaging, inclusive, and intellectually rigorous classroom environment.

What is The Discussion Project?

The Discussion Project is a professional development series helping instructors design and facilitate high-quality discussion in which students consider different perspectives on issues while improving student engagement, sense of belonging, learning and civic skills.

The Discussion Project is also a research project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research, where it originated and still is going strong, providing support to UW-Madison instructors.

Who should take The Discussion Project?

The course is designed for instructors of all subject areas in higher education and at the 6-12 grade level. Participants range from early career instructors to expert veterans.

How is The Discussion Project offered?

Offered both in-person and online, The Discussion Project is highly interactive and engages participants in experiences and practices throughout each session. The in-person course is three days. The online version of the course is seven two-hour synchronous sessions on Zoom, each preceded by asynchronous preparatory work.

Why is discussion so important in creating an engaging classroom environment?

Engaging discussions are one of the most rewarding and memorable activities that students and faculty alike can experience in the classroom. Well-facilitated, meaningful, and deliberate discussion can create social connection, deepen understanding of course content, and teach skills required for engagement in public life.

How does the value of discussion become more important with AI becoming more accessible?

Discussion is even more important as artificial intelligence changes the role of the student learner. Effective use of AI opens the potential for instructors to design more classroom discussions that focus deeply on inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, and multiple perspectives.

What is discussion-based learning? What is discussion pedagogy and why is it important?

Holding students responsible for their own learning is the basis of discussion-based learning. Using an inquiry process, students practice listening, questioning, critical thinking/problem-solving and empathy. There are a wide variety of methods that instructors can use. To do this successfully, instructors need concentrated professional training to recognize the distinction between robust discussion and other types of student talk, and to learn specific skills to design, implement, and facilitate high quality small and large group discussion.

Does discussion pedagogy differ between higher education and grades 6-12?

The Discussion Project defines discussion as focused inquiry through speaking & listening that is purposeful, broadly collaborative, and that leads to deeper understanding through analysis of different perspectives. Given that, we believe that all students can successfully prepare for and participate in discussion through the same pedagogy. The skill of the instructor informs any adaptations that may need to be made.

How do discussion skills support academic learning and performance? What specific skill development occurs?

Increased academic achievement and performance results from student preparation for and participation in high-quality discussions. Specifically, when preparing for a discussion, students learn and practice questioning, apply information to real world situations, gather evidence, and anticipate challenges. All of this leads to greater retention of academic knowledge. As participants in a discussion, student engagement increases understanding of course content and use of academic language. In addition, understanding increases when students engage in verbal activities that require reflection, explanation, and clarification. At the same time, discussion creates opportunities for students to articulate their own thinking and reasoning in order to clarify misunderstandings, to be challenged, and to challenge other views.

What are the benefits of discussion in small groups beyond the classroom?

By teaching discussion, schools have a unique opportunity to teach students the skills needed to engage in public discussion and career readiness. In political and professional environments students use their discussion skills by critiquing ideas without engaging in personal attacks, encouraging others to participate without undue pressure, and to monitor their own participation levels so as not to dominate or remain silent. The benefits of discussion, including spoken language skills, translate into their role as informed political participants and careers where they problem-solve.

TESTIMONIALS

What our professional learners say

Pamela Epley

Interim Senior Vice-President of Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty, Clinical Professor, Erikson Institute

“The Discussion Project was an amazing experience for the Erikson faculty to engage in together. We learned from the wonderful facilitators as well as with and from each other multiple ways to create space for varied perspectives, facilitate meaningful engagement across all students, and intentionally promote learning through small and large group discussions.”

Khasan Redjaboev

PhD candidate, International Studies, UW-Madison

“I liked the Discussion Project as an absolutely essential teaching training for both newly starting and experienced instructors. Even though I have a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education in Teaching and Learning, the program kept me busy and engaged thanks to the latest innovations in educational research. I recommend the Discussion Project for everyone interested in making their classes more inclusive, teaching effective, and outcomes more lasting.”

Ready to have a discussion?

Submit your information for a personalized course walk-through with The Discussion Project team to better understand how it can support the growth of your instructors, departments, and institution.

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WCEPS provides the Discussion Project with permission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Discussion Project and the Discussion Project logo are trademarks of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

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