The entry below is another story from my colleague Jack Byrd about student experiences with a student-centered discussion class. It might help you think about the ways that discussion facilitation differs from making an oral presentation. You might also think about the ways that this could help students who don’t normally excel in a typical solo oral presentation.
Lauren is a bright student who suffers from panic attacks. She has struggled with depression and has seen a counselor for both her depression and panic attacks. In classes where her grades depend on written work, she does very well. But in courses where she needs to do an oral presentation, her anxieties get in the way of her performance. She hasn’t done well on such presentations.
Lauren wants a career in health care management and realizes she has got to learn how to lead groups and make presentations in front of a group. She wants this career strongly enough that she is willing to enroll in a team-based discussion course. She knows it will be a struggle for her.
She is the only female on her team (there are few women in the class). Since Lauren is the most organized student in the team, the team has looked to her for a lot of team management activities. When Lauren is asked to facilitate, she has done this as an extension of her innate organization skills. She has come to see facilitation as essentially an organizational task. As a result, Lauren doesn’t experience the same anxiety of being in front of a group as she did when making a solo presentation. The facilitation experience has given her the confidence that she can be effective communicating to and with a group. After just two experiences at facilitating, she has overcome the panic and anxiety that have bothered her for years.
Lauren has become an excellent facilitator in part because she is sensitive to the challenges that her teammates may be having in the discussion. Her style is one of quiet confidence. She asks questions of others without interjecting her own opinions. The unique skill that Lauren brings to facilitation is her organizational approach.
Some lessons learned:
- Discussion facilitation is a different communication skill from making a typical oral presentation. It has a lower level of personal risk and tends to generate less anxiety. As a result students might find facilitation experiences to be a vehicle for developing confidence in front of a group.
- When students incorporate their personal strengths (e.g. organizational skills, creativity) into their facilitation approach, the anxiety of facilitation tends to dissolve. You might encourage students to build on their particular strengths to shape their approach to successful facilitation.
- Solo presentations can be easy for extroverted students who naturally have the gift of gab–and a terrifying challenge for the student who is shy by nature. Shy or quiet students, students who are good listeners, can, however, end up being superb discussion facilitators.