Student-Led Discussion Method

This document describes the method we will use for all Reading Discussions. The discussion format is based on a process formulated by the Interactivity Foundation. A more detailed guide, but one less specific to this course, is hosted by the Interactivity Foundation. Students are urged to visit this site.

A discussion group is composed of no more than 6 students. Each discussion is led by one facilitator, and a discussion summary is compiled by one scribe. All group members participate in the discussion, with the facilitator carrying out certain special function leading up to, during and after the discussion. The role of Facilitator and Scribe rotates through the group. Ideally, each group member enacts these roles at least twice during the semester. Facilitators provide a framework for the discussion, sustain creative input from all participants, ensure that the overall process is followed and summarize the discussion. A good facilitator does a minimum amount of talking, and should nudge latter stages of the discussion towards the most challenging areas. Scribes provide notations of the discussion to the Facilitators, but also participate in the discussion.

A discussion topic, often in the form of a text excerpt, video, audio or collection of images (but for convenience always referred to as the ‘reading’), is assigned at least two weeks prior to the discussion date. A week before the discussion, the Facilitator posts a set of discussion prompts based on the reading, on the class blog. Discussion prompts may summarize aspects, in the reading, that are of greatest interest to the Facilitator, or may result from the most oblique of references arising from the reading. Their function is to provide a framework to begin the discussion and a point of reference if the discussion begins to falter. They should not be considered as topics that are strictly to be adhered to. All group members must have thoroughly considered both the reading and prompts by the discussion day. The facilitator’s role is less to direct the discussion and more to keep it moving. However, there are times when a discussion seems to ‘dry up’; at such times, the facilitator should refer to a prompt, or some aspect of the reading or related issue that could regenerate the discussion. The scribe submits a typed discussion summary, which may be in bullet points, to the facilitator by the end of the discussion day, who in turn posts the summary on the class blog, after reviewing and amending it as necessary. The group is then encouraged to continue the discussion on the blog.

The objectives of each discussion are to establish a habit of inquiry and discovery though discourse, to inform class project work, and to underscore the relationship between studio practice, philosophical expression and truth (as originally expressed by Aristotle as poiesis, praxis and theoria). This is often best achieved by assuming a dialectical stance in a safe, mutually supportive yet challenging environment. The readings are to be considered primarily for the issues that are being highlighted via the discussion prompts, as opposed to their scholarly and academic substance. Thus, students are asked to read critically and relate aspects of each reading to issues that are of personal import and concern. Facilitators are asked to highlight about three concerns that they consider may be of greatest interest and most challenging to the group. All group members are asked to engage fully, honestly and with the greatest respect for the peers, and to foster an environment of sanctuary.

The format of each discussion is partitioned into three sections: establish a list of concerns by unpacking the reading with particular attention to the prompts; identify patterns in the  concerns and summarize these groups; formulate a question or problem and propose a response or solution. Spend about 15 minutes on each section.

This first section assumes a ‘brainstorming’ stance. The group simply pools all possibilities and thoughts arising from the reading and the prompts. It is not a judgmental or even discursive period. It is a highly creative section of the discussion, and as the brainstorm progresses, facilitator and scribe will list summaries of each comment on both a whiteboard/large sheet of paper(facilitator) and notepad(scribe). The discussion at this stage should be about unpacking all possible issues and thoughts arising from the reading, and is typified by an energized conversation that is full of, “…yes, and….”. Risk-taking is encouraged, and the utmost respect exercised. Question all possible aspects of the issues on hand, but do not refute any comment made by your peers. Allow this phase of the discussion to meander, but the facilitator should feel free to nudge the discussion back towards the reading prompts if it is drying up. It is important to keep summarizing the comments on a large board.

The second section shifts into a more critical mode. The pool of comments from the ‘Concerns’ section are sifted and organized into sets by the discussion group. It may even be possible to summarize each set on the large board. The discussion group then prioritizes these patterns, identifying those that may be of greatest interest, concern or most challenging. It may even do the opposite and cluster certain comments to be of no concern. The section should transit into the following phase with having identified one or two clusters of comments on which the group would like to focus the discussion.

The final section aspires to frame a question, problem or some such situation that then requires a response, solution or proposal for action. This is all hypothetical, and as such, the discussion should be imaginative and open ended, yet inspiring enough to actually feed into the specifics of studio practice and each group member’s sphere of interests. Conclude with a pledge to respect the discussion and all who participated in it.


  1. First day of class: Establish discussion groups, set up facilitator and scribe rotations.
  2. 2 weeks before reading discussion: assign and distribute reading.
  3. 1 week before reading discussion: Facilitator places discussion prompts as a comment on the respective class blog post (Blog post title will be something like: “<Reading Author-keyword from title>: GroupA”, e.g. Szarkowski-Photographers Eye: GroupA)
  4. Before reading discussion: all group members to have examined reading and considered prompts
  5. Reading Discussion: Full participation, Facilitator and Scribe carry out functions, annotate and keep track of time
  6. Within 12 hours after reading discussion: Scribe emails a proof-read discussion summary to Facilitator
  7. Within 24 hours after reading discussion: Facilitator posts discussion summary as a comment on the respective blog post
  8. Ongoing thereafter: group continues commenting on blog, participates in other groups’ blog discussions.

Pradip Malde, August, 2011