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Facilitating a Civil and Civic Conversation

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Facilitating a Civil and Civic Conversation

How to Facilitate a Civil and Civic Conversation

Our divided political landscape presents challenges to the campus and classroom environment when issues divide us. Plan to set up an environment that values even difficult conversations.

Collaborative Planning: involve the whole class in designing a plan for discussion – what are the ground rules? How do we interact and react?

Some general guidelines:

  • Students can ask questions without fear of ridicule, and can make and learn from their mistakes
  • Faculty encourage students to brainstorm new approaches to problems and acknowledge students’ diversity of thought, opinions, and ideas
  • Both faculty and students are sensitive to the likelihood of having their own biases and preferences, but don’t impose them on each other
  • Students are encouraged to allow space for all voices to be heard, especially when working in small groups or on group assignments
  • Faculty are clear in their directions and feedback, and avoid sarcasm and innuendo in their responses to student questions or concerns
  • Faculty help students learn how to respectfully disagree with another’s point of view without blame or recrimination

Suggested strategies for faculty:

  • Ask students to engage in active listening, and not interrupt their peers
  • Allow space for all voices rather than allowing a few students to dominate the conversation
  • You as well as students be willing to examine and challenge your beliefs: to grow intellectually
  • Critique or challenge ideas but not individuals
  • Refrain from expecting one person to represent an entire social group, class, race, or gender identity
  • Define behaviors that will not be accepted in class, including eye rolling, name calling, and laughing at mistakes


How do I facilitate a difficult conversation remotely?

Best practices reveal some guidelines

  • Keep the session as much like an in-person class meeting as possible
  • Ask someone to act as a note taker or use white board feature in Zoom to track the conversation
  • Set ground rules – no interruptions, listening deeply, respecting voices
  • Encourage use of tools – in Zoom – “raising hand” or thumbs up reactions, staying mute until your time to talk, using chat civilly, polling to assess positions and perspectives
  • Capture and summarize (say back) all points – keep it on the issues not on the individuals or identities
  • Create a Google form or discussion thread in CANVAS for students to share post-session reflections, questions, and concerns with you directly

Heterodox Academy

In the coming weeks you may want to foster a brave space in your classroom – a place for discussions that can be civil and productive.  The materials offered by Heterodox Academy focus on open inquiry and viewpoint diversity and include guidelines for facilitation.

They also have this series of videos on youtube that may be helpful.