University of Wisconsin–Madison

The aim of this professional development series is to strengthen our campus-wide capacity to create welcoming, engaging, and academically rigorous classroom environments in which students experience productive classroom discussions on important issues and topics.

Our Mission

Engaging discussions are one of the most rewarding and memorable activities that students and faculty alike can experience in the classroom. Recent research shows that classroom discussion deepens learning, creates community, and helps students form an academic identity.

At the same time, classroom discussion is a challenging pedagogical undertaking. It requires the instructor to orchestrate learning among a group of students who likely do not know each other, come from a diversity of backgrounds, possess a range of political commitments, arrive with varying levels of familiarity with the course material, and have different levels of comfort speaking in class.

Inviting students to discuss also comes with some risk because we don’t know what students are going to say. That unknown means that the instructor will have to be ready to follow one student’s interesting and unexpected line of thought, correct another’s misunderstanding about the material, and also be prepared to respond to any number of possibly off-topic, inappropriate, hostile, or naïve comments.

To address these promises and challenges, the School of Education has designed a six-session professional development program for UW faculty and teaching staff. The program will be offered in both the 2017-18 Fall and Spring semesters. See the Program page for more details.

The first cohort of participants will take part in six sessions during 2017 Fall Semester. The first two sessions will meet in August before classes start. A second cohort will be selected for 2018 Spring Semester.

Who should apply?

  • Faculty and staff who are teaching a course at UW-Madison during the semester for which they apply. At this time, we are not accepting graduate students.
  • Ideally, applicants should be teaching a course with fewer than 50 students.
  • Applicants must be available to attend all six sessions.

We strongly encourage people to apply with someone else from their department/unit.

Dates for Fall Cohort

Location: Wisconsin Idea Room located on the first floor of the Education Building.

Note: Dates and times are subject to change. Spring cohort dates and times will be posted early in the Fall 2017 semester.

Date Time Session
Tuesday, August 22 9:00am – 12:00pm Getting Students Talking
Thursday, August 31 9:00am – 12:00pm Designing Effective Small-Group Discussions
Wednesday, September 13 1:30pm – 4:00pm Facilitating Whole-Class Discussions
Wednesday, September 27 1:30p – 4:00pm Developing Facilitation Strategies
Wednesday, October 11 1:30pm – 4:00pm Ethical Issues Related to Discussion
Wednesday, October 25 1:30pm – 4:00pm Assessing Discussion

“The Discussion Project was, by far, the best teaching workshop I’ve experienced. Not only did we receive new tools for facilitating discussion, we also got practice using them. The workshop was especially helpful for learning how to hold discussions on controversial political and ethical issues, how and when to share my own views as an instructor, and how to create the right mix of comfort and discomfort in the classroom.” – Andy D., Department of Geography