Frank C. Lin‎ > ‎

Discussion Group

I almost always have a class discussion group for courses I conduct at SJSU.  It is an effective means for communication as well as a formidable collaborative learning tool.  Over the years, I have seen many "rookie mistakes(?)" made by some students.  Hence, the followings are my personal bias on do or not do when one is engaged in the class discussion group.  There is really no rule, but again, it is for your consideration.

Do active in answering
It is a direct means of helping your fellow students.  It is also a good way to demonstrate your mastery of the subject.  Establish credibility among your peers is very important not only in school, but also in engineering careers. 

Helping others is certainly one of the means to earn your credibility.  I suspect that helping others over a public forum (e.g. discussion group) is better than 1 on 1 tutoring.  For one thing, there may be others who benefit from the conversation.  For the other, your answer is also inspected by other knowledgeable colleagues.  At the end, every one benefits.

Do not hesitate to ask questions, but do ask valid questions
Example: Can someone explain Hamming code?
Well, the question is so general.  do google, go to wikipedia.  There are many good tutorial info out there.

My rule of thumb of a "valid question" is to ask yourself: do I do my ground work?  Do I know what the question is all about?  Read the section?  THINK about the question?

Do provide a context for the question especially if you're the first one to bring up the subject
Example: Guys what is the significance of digits 0-9 in Q.13.
For reader (the person who may be able to help you) to know what you're asking, he will need to go to the book and figure out what is Q13 and then make sense out of your question.

Keep in mind that the objective of asking question is to get the right answer.  If you can make it "effortless" for people to answer your question, most people will be very happy to help you.  When I carry a box and ask people in the elevator to hold the elevator door, most people will do.  But when I ask people to come out of the elevator to help me carry the box, oh well.

On a side note, I have received many emails with subject like "late homework", "my homework".  I think the sender expects me to know their email address or their name by heart.  But sorry, I am not good at it.  This falls into the category that "provide a context" for the communication.  A more descriptive subject, like adding class number and homework number, will go a long way.

Do contribute your thoughts on the problem
Example: What is your answer on problem xyz?
To an extreme, it is like "tell me what you know, but I'm not telling you".  A more appropriate question can be framed as " This is what I thought (a b c) about problem xyz.  But I have doubt on b because ..., what do you think?

I especially like people who ask questions and also provide a few possible answers to get clarification.  It makes it fairly easy to answer one way or the other or "I don't know."

Do ask questions of general interest to the whole class in discussion groups
Example: I have been asked many times by individual student (during office hour or after class) about the time, content, or format of exams.  These types of conversations are better conducted with everyone's knowledge, so there is no preferential info to any individual.