In my field, classes that follow the "lecture" format are the norm. But this time around, I am teaching a more seminar-like class, a smaller class on a special topic. While lecture is appropriate in some cases in this class, the class lends itself much better to the discussion format.
The discussion format is not a format that I have ever used before. Nor, apparently, is it something that my students are used to seeing in this field. I knew going into this class that the "discussion" part might be difficult for me to get used to. But I did not anticipate just how hard it would be for the students as well.
Here's the thing: I thought the students would have an easier time adjusting to discussion than I would. After all, the other classes on their schedules tend to be the ones where discussion is natural: English, literature, the social sciences, etc. So I thought that the students would be able to "guide" me here, since they have more experience participating in discussions (probably) than I do. But, it has been somewhat of a struggle to get them to carry on fruitful discussions in this course.
Up until now, I've dealt with this in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I let the discussion morph into a lecture. The students like this much more than I do---they all said that they really like the lectures in this course. Sometimes I just sit there and let them squirm in silence until someone says something....and then I try to lead the discussion from there. You know what? It's hard. It's much harder than I ever would have anticipated.
Today, I even gave them a list of the discussion questions beforehand, thinking that it would help get the discussion going....and it was still like pulling teeth at some points to get them to commit to saying anything. Is it the fear of being "wrong"? Is it laziness? Is it really that they are just not comfortable with the idea of integrating discussion into a technical course? Hard to say.
I wish I knew how to get them to open up more. But maybe it all starts with how comfortable I am with the format, and how willing I am to push them to be comfortable with it too.
Anyone have any words of wisdom? Especially those of you who lead discussions regularly in your courses?