1281 Words On Generating a Discussion
Patrick J. J. Phillips, Graduate Programme in Philosophy and Learning Disabilities Programme, Counselling and Development Centre
Volume 9 Number 2 (December 1999)

It is the weighty responsibility of the tutorial leader to generate discussion in their assigned tutorial group. Although tutorial discussion is a strategy used in almost all Arts disciplines, its importance is perhaps more pronounced in the discipline of philosophy. For, in the market place of philosophy, if the produce is a veritable cornucopia of ideas, then the currency of that market place is argument.

One hopes that discussion will arise naturally in a tutorial group and if this is indeed the happy circumstance then the following suggestions are redundant. However, in my six years as both a teaching assistant and a course director in the Philosophy Department at York, I have found all of the following approaches to the generation of dialogue useful, even in groups of students where the majority are budding Socrates.

In entering the tutorial arena I have found it efficacious to avoid posing rhetorical questions when explaining an idea or a concept. This practice helps avoid possible confusion as to when it is appropriate for students to answer a question. Also, the tried and tested method of counting (silently) to twenty after asking a question often has a positive result in terms of evincing a response, even though it is sometimes hard on one's nerves. Other useful strategies include:

This strategy has the advantage that it does not pressure the individual student in the same way a formal presentation would while at the same time ensuring that students will read and contribute on a regular basis.

Some failures in generating discussion can be attributed to the geography of the tutorial room. It is an unfortunate fact of life at York that many classrooms are unsuitable for hosting discussion. Many classrooms have the fixed seating of the traditional lecture format. These classrooms supply one central focal point (for the 'lecturer') with all other seats facing this focal point. Where possible this geography should be altered to reflect a 'round table' approach to learning as opposed to reflecting a power structure in which the student is the passive recipient of the knowledge of the lecturer. Other efficacious approaches to the generation of discussion that are directly related to the geography of the classroom are:

Many tutorial leaders recoil at the notion that tutorials should be structured to the extent that some of the suggestions made above may require. I must stress that I am by no means advocating these approaches as a requirement, only that these approaches may be found useful. Indeed, discussion may be generated using the lecture model (indeed due to the restrictions imposed by the space within your assigned classroom this may be the only recourse available to you). In this case the following guidelines pertain: