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 professional development program for UW faculty and teaching staff. See the Program Overview page for more details.

Who should apply to The Discussion Project Virtual trainings?

  • The training is open to any university instructor (faculty, academic staff, TA) teaching a course that serves 40 or fewer students, whether in-person or online. Priority will be given to primary instructors (instructors of record).
  • To participate in a January cohort, you must be teaching a spring 2021 course.


  • The application for The Discussion Project Virtual January 2021 trainings is now open! Please visit our Apply page to access the application.

The Discussion Project Virtual (January 2021)

Each cohort is limited to 25 participants.

Cohort Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
January A
(synchronous sessions)
Thur 1/7/21
Tues 1/12/21
Thur 1/14/21
Tues 1/19/21
Thur 1/21/21
January B
(synchronous sessions)
Fri 1/8/21
Mon 1/11/21
Wed 1/13/21
Fri 1/15/21
Fri 1/22/21*
*Gap due to MLK Jr. Day (1/18/21)  and Inauguration Day (1/20/21).
All synchronous sessions will be held online on Zoom. Each synchronous session will be preceded by ~1 hour of asynchronous preparatory work in Canvas. 

Who should apply to The Discussion Project in-person trainings?

  • We accept applications from faculty, teaching staff, and teaching assistants who are teaching a course at UW-Madison the during the semester for which they apply.
  • Applicants should be teaching a face-to-face course with fewer than 50 students in the semester immediately following the first two days of training.
  • In order to be eligible, applicants must be available to attend both full-day sessions and one half-day mid-semester session.
  • Please note that the application is not on a first-come-first-served basis and that we have limited availability for teaching assistants. For the purposes of our study, we will be constructing cohorts based on a number of factors. We will contact you as soon as we can to confirm participation. We will aim to notify participants 6 weeks in advance of the training for which they are confirmed.


  • We return to in-person trainings in either Spring or Summer 2021.

Media Highlights

“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