Discussion is an essential part of the learning experience. It permits a closer analysis of material, and it encourages the types of debates which can crystallize ideas. The value of discussion in the classroom, I believe, is without question, and yet, it is something that simply does not appeal to many of the students I teach. I cannot perceive if it is because of embarrassment, or if the students have not read the material (this has been a problem in a recent course of mine), or if there is some other underlying distaste of discussion as a tool for learning.
I do not want to believe in the Wikification of learning, where people only care about the acquisition of facts (such as they are), and not about the application of understanding or the deeper analysis of ideas. I recognize that many of my students are more comfortable in the simpler lecture-style portion of my courses than in the discussion element. I know from colleagues that have attempted discussion-based learning before that they have switched over to entirely lecture-based courses. They, too, have noticed my difficulty. If they hadn't, I would have assumed that the problem rested squarely in me, and then I would have tried various personal methods to correct it.
I am, however, convinced that this is a deeper problem, and it requires a new evaluation of how to use and introduce discussion-based elements into the classroom. At this stage of the game, I can only introduce that there is a problem-- Discussion is difficult in class, and students do not profit from it as they should. Thus, a solution must be found (and it will probably be an evolving one) that permits students a more fruitful engagement with discussion-based elements, and that returns the discussion portion of a class to better levels of activity.
As the summer semester winds down, I will begin to post some of the ideas that I have concerning various methods. When I get the opportunity to test these methods, I will post my results. If any of you, whoever you are, have any insights, I would be pleased to hear about them, and look forward to your comments.