Session Discussants (Paper & PVDS)

Your role as a Session Discussant helps Authors/Presenters enhance their paper and ultimately their scholarship. Your critical, honest, and constructive feedback can make Authors/Presenters better scholars, researchers, and writers. Your feedback also connects themes within your session for the attendees as well as creates a benchmark for the expectations of scholarly work.

Discussants serve a deeply important role in higher education knowledge production and in our ASHE community by supporting the scholarly development of Authors and providing important context for ASHE sessions. During the conference, you will provide feedback to Authors at the session, and offer comments that look across the papers. The discussion should last about 15 minutes.

The purpose of the Discussant role is threefold: 

  1. To provide deep and constructive feedback to Authors (some issues  shared at the session; more shared privately to Authors either before or after the  session); 
  2. To role-model the provision of constructive feedback—improving reviewing and  feedback-giving in our field (this is presented publicly at the session); 
  3. To deepen understanding of the area of study by integrating themes across the presentation and drawing out broader ideas that connect the papers to the state of research in the field (this is presented publicly at the session).  

Best Practices for a High Quality Discussant and Chair Process Webinar
Recorded October 26, 2022

This webinar clarifies the purpose and role of the ASHE discussants and chairs. Panelists share best practices for discussants in providing quality and constructive feedback to authors, and giving strong, integrative comments during the ASHE session. Panelists also cover the responsibilities of the chairs in providing organization and structure to the session.

Whether it's your first time serving as a discussant or chair or you have been discussing or chairing for years, we encourage you to review the webinar recording below to learn more about the process and gain some new ideas to support the scholarly development of authors.

Program Committee Co-Chairs:

  • Bridget Turner Kelly, University of Maryland
  • Lara Perez-Felkner, Florida State University


  • Marcela G. Cuellar, University of California, Davis
  • Eileen Galvez, Yale University / Colorado State University
  • Emily Koren, University of Southern California
  • Linda Sax, University of California, Los Angeles

Accessing the Papers (Paper Session Discussants)

  1. Download papers that are uploaded in the Conference Portal (after October 25 at 4:00pm Pacific/Las Vegas Time).
  2. Log in to ASHE Conference Portal:
  3. Select Main Menu (Submission Site) from the menu.
  4. From the Submitter menu, click on the "Chair/Discussant" tab.
  5. Within this link, you will find the sessions for which you are a participant (Presenters, Chair, Discussant, Organizer, etc.). 
  6. Click on the "Participations" tab and click the "view" link next to the title of the session in which you are the Discussant.
  7. Click on the "download individual submission file" link to download the papers uploaded by the submitter for each proposal in the session. NOTE: Until the submitter uploads the final paper by October 25, the file defaults to supplemental information originally submitted with the proposal (e.g. graphs, charts, models, etc.

Preparing Your Discussant Presentation/Feedback (Paper Session Discussants)

  1. Prepare a 10 minute presentation to share feedback on each paper and the collection of papers with session attendees. 
  2. Prepare written feedback for each paper to share with Authors. 

Accessing the PVDS Session Questions/Notes (PVDS Discussants)

Around October 25, the ASHE Staff will share with PVDS Discussants and Chairs each presentation proposal in their session as well as feedback from presenters on what aspects of their presentation they’d like feedback on. If the session includes materials available ahead of time (e.g., a documentary), the ASHE Staff is also requesting this from presenters and will share with Chairs and Discussants if available.

Arriving to Your Session (15 minutes prior to your session)

  • Locate your session’s room assignment in the Conference Program. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early. Please note that there is a 15-minute break between sessions, so the previous session may still be wrapping up when you arrive.
  • In the 15 minutes before your session starting, the Session Chair, Session Discussant, and Session Authors can discuss: 
    • The order of the presentations based on the program 
    • Name pronunciations and preferred names for Authors (e.g., Jason vs. Dr. Guilbeau)
    • The time limits for each Presenter 
    • Process for selecting questions for the Q and A section
    • Process for Q and A section of the session

Paper Session Format


PVDS Session Format 


Best Practices for a High Quality Discussant Process Resources

Discussants serve a deeply important role in higher education knowledge production and in our ASHE community by supporting the scholarly development of authors and providing important context for ASHE paper sessions. 
The purpose of the discussant role is threefold:

  1. To provide deep and constructive feedback to authors on their papers (some issues shared at the session; more shared privately to authors either before or after the session);
  2. To role-model the provision of constructive feedback—improving reviewing and feedback-giving in our field (this is presented publicly at the session);
  3. To deepen understanding of the area of study by integrating themes across the papers presented and drawing out broader ideas that connect the papers to the state of research in the field (this is presented publicly at the session). 
To support discussants in their process, we make the following recommendations on strong practices that have been used by previous discussants and recommended in the literature.
Important broad considerations for discussants:
  • Use generous thinking (Renn, 2020) in all comments (both private to authors and in public during the session), which asks the critique and feedback to be based in the belief in a positive outcome for the work—what feedback will move this work forward?
  • Be conscious of how your own identities, epistemologies, researcher experiences, understandings, and/or knowledge may shape how you react to the work. Think deeply about the intentions of authors when shaping comments.
  • Be thoughtful about which feedback should be given publicly versus in private to authors
    • Broad, constructive, and reinforcing comments should be shared publicly at the session
    • Details and more extensive feedback should be shared in writing, privately to the author
    • Critiques can be shared both publicly at the session and in writing—but bear in mind how to be constructive and generous with the critiques (see above) 
Strategies for providing deep and constructive feedback to authors (privately):
  • Provide written comments.  Some discussants choose to send these comments prior to the paper session, and others give the written feedback after the session. Either is fine, but we are asking each discussant to provide written comments for each paper.
  • Written comments can be a detailed review embedded throughout the manuscript or in summary comments (similar to what a reviewer might provide)—or, ideally, both.
  • Think like a reviewer appropriate to the form of the paper (e.g. journal article, a policy report, review of the literature). Review the kinds of things that will be reviewed there such as: clear writing and organization, appropriate review of literature and use of theory, appropriate methods, sound analysis and implications.
  • Focus on the author’s intentions: what is the author trying to accomplish with this research?  What are the things the author needs to do to enact that purpose in the paper?
  • What are some unique aspects or strengths of this paper to build on?
  • Suggest possible publication venues for the paper. 
Strategies for role-modeling the provision of constructive feedback (publicly in the session):
  • Use a “sandwich” strategy—start by discussing the paper broadly and how it connects to the state of knowledge in the field, then discuss constructive ways to improve the manuscript, then close with the especially promising aspects of the manuscript.
  • Focus on the big-picture—consider the aspects of the paper to draw out during the session—what are the most important contributions of this manuscript to the literature base?
  • Ensure the critiques are constructive toward publication of the manuscript—this is especially important toward role-modeling good feedback in our field.
Strategies for deepening understanding of the area of study in the paper session
  • Consider what is the state of the research base on this topic in our field and how do the three papers (together) and each individually contribute and build off of what exists?
  • What are the threads that bring the papers together—theoretically, methodologically, paradigmatically, topically, epistemologically, or otherwise? And what makes them distinct?
  • What questions do the papers make you wonder about our field and about the state of research in our field? What questions do the papers leave you with that will move this line of research forward?
  • Consider ways to get the audience involved allowing audience members to discuss their commentary with those nearby.
Suggested Practices to Avoid as a Discussant
  • Critiquing in a way that tears down the research topic or idea making it seem as if that topic is not worthy of study at any time or in any way.
  • Pointing out very specific edits in the public comments (e.g. on page 3 APA style is not used). These should be reserved for private comments to authors in written feedback.
  • Suggesting that the author include your own work (unless it is directly related and you suggest your work along with other related works).
  • Commenting on when you got the papers (if they were late, etc.).
  • Commenting on how disparate the topics of the papers were and disappointment with the session paper alignment (ASHE does its best, please work with what you have).
  • Commenting on what you think the purpose of the paper should be (e.g. suggesting a whole different study) rather than supporting the intentions of the author.
Thank you for doing the deep, substantive, and constructive work necessary to build up both the scholarship and the scholars in the field of higher education through serving as an ASHE discussant.  Do not underestimate the importance of your discussant role in moving a line of work and a scholar forward!  We have provided a list of resources for providing good, critical feedback.

Additional Resources: Click here to download these resources as a PDF