Detailed Instructions for Student-facilitated Discussions

Study Circle Assignment


The idea of the "study circle" is to bring democracy and inclusivity to the classroom by reducing reliance on a pre-ordained "expert" and acknowledging, rather, the capacity and mutuality that exists within a group of learners and knowers. The study circle is thus not a summary presentation of the content of the readings, but rather an open discussion among students that is stimulated and guided by a student facilitator. The purpose of the study circles is to get students participating with each other in reflection, dialogue and mutual learning in relation to the content areas being addressed, and in making linkages among the various topics and perspectives introduced in the course. 

For more information on Study Circles, refer to the Bjerkaker (2006) article "The study circle – for learning and democracy" and view the lecture  Introduction to Study Circles (18:53), (see Week 1 for alternate formats). 

Assignment Parts

This assignment is comprised of two parts, for a total of 20% of your final grade. See the Getting Started section at the bottom of this page for the required first steps in this assignment. For more information about each part of the assignment, see the following pages. 

  • Part A: Study Circle Facilitation (10%) 
  • Part B: Study Circle Participation (10%) 

Weekly deadlines are specified in the Course Schedule. 

Getting Started 

Find Your Group 

You will be assigned to a group of 6 – 8 students, which will make up the study circle. The study circle groups will remain the same for the duration of the course. Your activity within these study circle groups will be important for your Study Circle Participation grade (Part B of this assignment). Also, these groups will be important for your Topic Ideas and Presentation Feedback grade (Part D of the Comparative Policy Research Assignment). 

Group membership can be viewed by clicking Connect and then Groups on the course navigation bar above. If you are not in a group by the date specified in the Course Schedule, please contact Technical Support at Technical support is available during regular business hours, Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (Eastern Time). 

Sign Up to Facilitate 

Each student is expected to take a turn facilitating one week's study circle discussion (see details on the Study Circle Facilitation page, Part A of this assignment). Select your week and assigned group through the Study Circle Facilitator Sign-Up wiki page. 

  • Sign up in Week 2.
  • Sign-up is first come, first served. 

Part A: Study Circle Facilitation (10%)


Each student will take the lead in facilitating a discussion of the study circle readings listed in each week, based on the principles of the "study circle." The role of the facilitator is to stimulate and facilitate discussion amongst study circle participants toward generating a thorough understanding of and critical reflection among all participants on core themes and concepts in the assigned reading. 

To accomplish this goal, the expectations of each facilitator are 

  1. to know the week's reading material thoroughly and to be able to place it within the context of the prior weeks' discussions; 
  2. to be able to make links to topics and concepts from the lectures and associated readings from any point in the semester; 
  3. to prepare critical reflection questions related to your study circle topic that will elicit discussion of main themes and concepts, including inconsistencies, information gaps, or unclear arguments that might be clarified through discussion with peers; 
  4. to clarify concepts and perspectives throughout the study circle discussion – to restate, rephrase, ask questions – and where necessary to redirect or refocus discussion to the main themes and concepts in the assigned reading; 
  5. to summarize major themes and insights during the study circle discussion, and help participants to make links to previous study circle discussions, to lecture content, and to real-world situations and socio-political dynamics; and 
  6. to reflect with the group on potential trends, outcomes, impacts, or consequences of the ideas, information and perspectives in the assigned readings for global communities and social justice. 
  7. towards these ends, facilitators are expected to post an initial opening discussion question no later than 9:00 AM on the first day of the course week. 

Study circles are the core of class from Week 4 onward. 

You will facilitate the topic on the week you signed up for on the Study Circle Facilitator Sign-Up wiki page, and you will be evaluated based on the expectations for the study circle facilitator outlined above. All members of your discussion group are expected to take an active part in each study circle discussion. Participation in these weekly discussions will count towards your Study Circle Participation grade (Part B of this assignment). 

Study circle facilitation and participation will take place in your group discussion topic within the appropriate Weekly Study Circle discussion forum. Discussions can be accessed by clicking Connect and then Discussions on the course navigation bar above. 

Tips on How to Facilitate a Study Circle 

  • To keep the conversation moving during the week, write brief posts (250 words max.) in new threads for the introduction, broad question, synthesis, bringing in relevant news or course materials to shift conversation, and conclusion.
  • Log in daily and respond to classmates. 
  • Pose questions to guide and advance the discussion. 
  • Initiate and stimulate discussion. 
  • Make connections to readings or lectures, refer to a specific quote, cite new or existing sources. 
  • Find materials on the Internet that relate to the topic for the week and provide links to particularly useful sources. 
  • Share understanding and insights derived from the material found. 
  • Dispute positions with which you do not agree by provoking thoughts (not emotions) on a new idea or issue. This can be done by reconnecting with the readings and lecture or drawing out a colleague's assumptions through probing and follow-up queries. Question and challenge ideas in a respectful manner: Ask for clarification on a position or indicate confusion about an idea. 
  • Post "aha" moments and realizations about new learning - connect to new insights and understanding. 

Additional Resources on Study Circles 

  1. Andrews, C. (1996). Study circles: Schools for life. Langley, WA: Context Institute. Retrieved from 
  2. Tips for study circle participants. Retrieved from 
  3. Study Circles Resource Center. (1998). Tips for facilitating a study circle. In A Guide for Training Study Circle Facilitators. Pomfret, CT. Retrieved from 
  4. Community Tool Box. Organizing study circles. Retrieved from 

Part B: Study Circle Participation (10%) 


Class discussion is the core of this seminar class, and is intended to deepen the level of engagement with and analysis of the reading materials through dialogue with others. All students are expected to have done the reading before the beginning of the week, and should come to class prepared to discuss the information, ideas, and concepts in that week's readings, to contribute insights, to support and to respectfully challenge each other, and where possible, to link ideas in that week's readings to other course materials and to real-world situations. Each student is expected to make a first post in response to the discussion questions no later than 9:00 AM on the third day of the course week, if not sooner. Active participation is considered an important element of the learning process. 

Participation marks will reflect the contributions made to the study circle discussions as a whole. All students are expected to make at minimum 2 original posts to each of the study circle discussions (max. 250 words), but are encouraged to contribute more. Highest marks will go to students who strike the right balance of quantity and quality in their discussion participation, surpassing the 2-post minimum in most study circles, consistently making insightful and constructive contributions, and encouraging the participation of others. Strong participators are asked to be conscious of their impact on the participation of others, and to leave/create space for others to contribute. 

Study circle participation will take place in your group discussion topic within the appropriate Weekly Study Circle discussion forum. Discussions can be accessed by clicking Connect and then Discussions on the course navigation bar above. 

Guidelines for a Quality Post to the Study Circle 

To participate meaningfully in the study circle, you will need to 

  1. participate in the discussion every week, 
  2. read the assigned topic materials in advance of joining the discussion, 
  3. respond to the facilitator's posts with comments or follow-up questions: 
    • each student is expected to post an initial response within 2 days of the facilitator's first post, and 
  4. respond to comments and questions of other participants. 

A quality post 

  • clearly references previous posts or the study material it is responding to, 
  • contributes further information, perspective, or insight that would explain and expound on the issues under discussion, 
  • invites feedback and stimulates further discussion of concepts in the study materials, 
  • may challenge or contradict others, but does so without judgment, sarcasm, or condescension, and 
  • often makes connections between the study material and previous study circle discussions, lecture/readings concepts, and the real world. 

How Participation Will Be Graded 

Participation is the key to an effective, educational, and enjoyable study circle. Participation marks are based on the student's contributions to each study circle showing evidence of engagement with the reading material. 

See the Participation page for details about how your participation will be graded. 


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