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The Story of Thomas, Developing Social Confidence

My colleague Jack Byrd has decades of experience teaching discussion facilitation at WVU’s School of Engineering. I’ve asked him to share some of his observations and stories about student experiences with discussion facilitation. I offered to post this material for him. So, while this shows up as one of my postings, the rest of the entry is from Jack.

–Jeff Prudhomme

In the blog entries so far Jeff Prudhomme has focused on the discussion process we will be using. Jeff asked me share with you some of my insights on the impact the discussion approach may have on your students. In this entry and in more to follow, I’ll do just that.

One of the most interesting aspects of courses using the IF discussion process is how the course can affect students in their overall academic preparation.  We have seen similar trends in many of the campuses where we have sponsored courses. When students participate in a discussion group, the group can often lead to other relationships as well. These relationships can be crucial for student success.

Consider the case of Thomas described below:

For Thomas, college has been a struggle both academically and financially.  He is in his fourth year of college, but has yet to finish many of his third-year courses.  As an African-American student in the largely white discipline of engineering, Thomas has struggled to find the study partners that he needs to do well.  Thomas is inherently shy and has been reluctant to approach his white classmates to join their study groups.

In the discussion course, Thomas was placed in a team with five white classmates.  (He is the only African-American in the class.)  The team environment has provided Thomas with a structure that is supportive.  The team structure also has forced Thomas to interact with peers in a way that he has not done before.  As the team has developed, Thomas has become more and more comfortable with his classmates.  When he facilitates, he has demonstrated a confidence level that he has rarely shown in other classes.  Thomas has shown an appropriate level of assertiveness which is uncharacteristic of him. He is typically acquiescent about almost everything–usually to his detriment.

But the most lasting impact of the course experience on Thomas is that he now has a study group to work with in each of his classes.  As a result, Thomas grades have gone from mostly C’s and D’s to grades that are mostly B’s.  Thomas credits the course for his “coming out.”

Some lessons learned:

  1. Students, when placed in teams that are designed well, can develop the academic and social relationships they need to succeed in college.
  2. The sanctuary nature of team discussions makes it possible for shyer students to develop greater confidence and to become actively involved in the class. This confidence often extends to their other courses.

–Jack Byrd