From Harriett Steinbach - Illinois State University Institutionalizing Deliberative Dialogue

Blog Category: 

  • A House Divided cover
  • Coming to America cover

Harriett Steinbach, Assistant Director, Center for Civic Engagement at Illinois State Univeristy in Normal, Illinois shares the following account of the introduction and subsequent spread of the practice of deliberation to 41 courses at the university, involving approximately 740 participants in 70 dialogues:

Illinois State University’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) piloted deliberative dialogues in four sections of IDS 128: Thriving in College, Career, and Beyond in February 2020.  This freshman seminar previously incorporated a debate.  The original idea was to have two sections of the course continue with the debate and two sections pilot a deliberative dialogue, but when the instructors learned about dialogues they all wanted to do it.  The classes were sometimes broken into two groups depending upon size, and utilized either Coming To America or A House Divided issue guides.  The initial response was overwhelmingly positive from instructors and students.  

This cemented the partnership with the freshman seminar which offered 17 sections in the fall and another 4 sections for spring 2021.  In addition, a partnership was added with another freshman seminar IDS 108: College Success Skills which had 6 sections in the fall and 4 sections in the spring.  

Knowing that this many dialogues would be occurring in the fall semester, CCE staff prepared a training, and recruited faculty, staff, and students.  CCE was awarded a $1500 grant from Illinois Campus Compact to offer $100 stipends for individuals to be trained.  Some IDS 128 instructors were also trained as well as all CCE full-time staff and graduate assistants.  While all stipends were utilized in the fall, there was campus interest to host another facilitator training which was held in January.  In total, 37 people from Illinois State University have now been trained to facilitate dialogues.  Some individuals are planning to only use this newfound skill in their own classes or with their work teams, but other individuals are supporting CCE efforts by facilitating dialogues in classroom as facilitators are needed.

After the fall, CCE staff developed a webpage to help the campus community understand deliberative dialogues and created a form to request a dialogue.  In addition to the freshman seminars, dialogues were conducted in Health Science, Kinesiology and Recreation, and Philosophy courses as well as for several staff professional development sessions.

Freshman seminar students have an assignment attached to the dialogue experience.  Those assignments become artifacts that CCE staff can do a qualitative review of.  Other courses are asked to complete a short survey based on the brave spaces formation assessment.  CCE staff often provide preflection and reflection questions that students can consider or that can serve as a basis for a written or verbal reflection.  All facilitators also complete a short survey to reflect their observations of how participants engaged in the conversation.  Those items along with instructor feedback provide a solid base to assess the experience students are having and what they are learning.  Grounded in the NIFI outcomes for dialogues, CCE has expressly stated the following learning goals for those who participate in a dialogue:

  • Express appreciation and empathy of another’s perspective on the issue
  • Learn something new after hearing and considering another’s viewpoint
  • Analyze the issue from multiple perspectives
  • Evaluate skills need to participate in deliberation

Early review of data indicates that students learned new information and understood new perspectives from classmates, considered the issue in a different way, liked how the conversation was guided and structured, and appreciated having a conversation about a controversial topic in a calm and respectful manner instead of heated and dismissive.

ISU 2020 – 2021 Deliberative Dialogues Snapshot

  • Approximately 740 participants
  • 70 dialogues
  • 41 classes
  • 5 out of class
  • Topics: Coming To America, Infectious Disease Outbreak, Safety & Justice, Mental Illness, Free Speech & the Inclusive Campus, Opioids Epidemic, A House Divided