What research is being conducted on The Discussion Project?


Discussion Project Mellon Foundation Study, 2019-2022


The Discussion Project Mellon Foundation Study is a large, mixed-methods study. Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as University of Wisconsin donor funds, such as the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education Fund, and investment from the university administration, The Discussion Project has been able to study the in-person and online versions of the series over a number of years.

The study aims to address three questions:


  • How do The Discussion Project training and resources affect instructors’ abilities to create and facilitate high-quality classroom discussion?
  • How does The Discussion Project affect how students experience and learn from discussions in courses taught by instructors trained by The Discussion Project?
  • What are the best mechanisms to both scale The Discussion Project and extend it to other institutions of higher education with demographically different students than UW-Madison?

Discussion Project Measurement Study, 2022-23


Existing research provides highly suggestive evidence that the use of classroom discussion improves students’ academic engagement, social integration, and academic achievement, which are important predictors of college completion. However, very little research thus far has attempted to investigate a direct connection between the use of classroom discussion pedagogy and student outcomes. In part, progress in this area is limited by the absence of high quality, scalable, valid and reliable measures of the quality of classroom discussion.


In the 2022-23 academic year, the Discussion Project will be developing and testing a suite of tools for describing classroom discussion and instructor practice, and we will demonstrate how the suite of tools can work together to understand the benefits of classroom discussion and the Discussion Project training for student academic success.


The suite of measurement tools will include rubrics for use by trained classroom observers, instructor reflection questions, and student surveys (both right after class and at the end of the semester). We are particularly interested in learning the extent to which these three diverse perspectives can yield greater insight into what happens in the classroom.


We are currently recruiting UW–Madison instructors to participate in our research study! Research participants take part in the Discussion Project training, complete three surveys, allow observers to visit their classrooms three times each semester, provide survey links to their students, and earn up to $500 for completing study requirements. Learn more and enroll in the study.


The Discussion Project’s ambitious research agenda for 2022-23 has the potential to fill critical gaps in research capacity in higher education by providing new, scalable, validated measures of the quality of instructional practice and of classroom discussion. Moreover, we will use these new measures to expand the evidence base in support of discussion pedagogy in higher education.