Ground Rules For Discussions

Should instructors have ground rules for discussions, either in the classroom or in an online discussion forum?  The majority of my classmates, and myself, believe that yes ground rules are an important part of group discussions.  Not only do we agree that they are important, the number one ground rule we all agreed upon was that of showing respect towards others.  I believe showing respect is the most important ground rule in any discussion forum as it allows everyone to feel safe, able to express their feelings and insights, know they are valued, and that their opinion matters.

My classmate’s opinions differed on what the second most important ground rule was, however, the second most common answer was not allowing one person to monopolize the conversation.  To me this is the second most important ground rule to have in a discussion.  This rule allows all student time to participate in the conversation and a lot can be learned by actively listening to others.  Active listening allows students to analyze what is said, synthesize how they feel about it and critically reflect on if and why it changes their opinion on the topic.

I personally like to create classroom ground rules with my students at the beginning of every semester as it lays out the expectations for classroom behaviour early on.  This is a very learner centred activity as I have the students develop the rules that are most important to them.  Respecting others is almost always the first rule the students come up with.  This activity is easy to incorporate, requires little to no prep, typically requires very little facilitation, and gives the students a sense of ownership and collaboration as these are rules they have all decided upon together.

Are you a student?  I would love to hear your feedback on whether you like having classroom/discussion rules and what you believe the two most important rules are.

Are you a fellow instructor?  How and when do you establish classroom/discussion rules in your course?


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