• Clear Learning Outcomes
There are lots of great reasons to have a discussion in class, but be clear about what you want to accomplish today and tell your students.
–find the right entry point
–enhance intellectual curiosity
–deepen investment in the material
–improve communication skills
–reflect on the significance of material
–connect information across disciplines
–develop high level cognitive processing
–create real world contexts
–demonstrate the human dimension
–apply material to new contexts
• Preparation (student and faculty)
–provide in advance to your students:
–a written model of good behaviors (see below)
–reading guide and questions
–ensure student preparation (see above workshop C)
–prepare a short list of different types of questions
–Further Reading: Christensen, C. R., Garvin, D. A., & Sweet, A. (1992). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Harvard University Press.
• Clarify good student discussion behaviors
–Comments that introduce substantive points
–Comments that deepen the discussion
Further Reading: Harnish, J. (2008). What is a seminar? Seminar process to encourage participation and listening. Identifying good seminar behaviors. Collaborative Learning Conference II: Working Together, Learning Together. Everett Community College, Everett, WA. LINK
Discourse on the Best Pizza (Discussion Example)
Ask students to read this short definition of discourse and then have a group academic discussion that tries to encompass multiple modes at once.
How to find the best pizza:
Different “modes of discourse” is a fancy way of saying there are different ways of talking about something: criticism, history, technical analysis, cultural analysis, or return on investment, for example. Some ways of knowing are better suited to some kinds of knowledge. Descartes, for example, tried to prove logically that God existed, but most people think faith is separate from logic. Are you more likely to be converted by a logical argument or an enthusiastic sermon?
You should by now have a large body of opinions and ideas. While fact vs. opinion is a useful dichotomy, most things are rarely just one or the other. How can you identify better opinions? When you want to find the best pizza, do you assume this sort of knowledge does not exist? In other words, is everything you can know about the best pizza “just” opinion or are there useful things you can discover about where the “best pizza” might be found? Think of at least three different modes of discourse you could use to demonstrate which is the best pizza and be prepared (a) to argue in each mode and (b) discuss the strengths and weakness of each mode.
If students are stumped or slow to respond, then feeding them one mode at a time can get them started:
1. Survey: This is empirical data, but does your survey distinguish different cultural responses? Chicagoans and New Yorkers have different pizza preferences. How is it useful (or useless) to determine which Dallas pizza tastes best to New Yorkers?
2. Expert: Does a food critic have taste better than you? Maybe she just has more experience (i.e. has been to all of the pizza shops on campus)?
3. Deduction: Do the best ingredients make the best pizza?
4. Value: Is there a price point at which there are diminishing returns? Or is best an absolute standard?
5. Cultural knowledge: Ask an Italian? Or its advertising corollary, pizza made BY an Italian must be best. What sort of knowledge is a Chinese restaurant full of Chinese patrons or a truckstop with lots of trucks outside?
Another fun topic is the different ways you might argue with your roommate about his need to sleep with the light on.
Active Learning or Collaborative Learning
Discussion is only one simple form of active or collaborative learning. There are many books and websites full of ideas and techniques. Here are just a few
Reacting to the Past: http://reacting.barnard.edu/
Eric Mazur (1996). Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. Prentice Hall Link to video
Elizabeth Barkley, (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Judy Miller, Groccia, J. E., & Miller, M. S. (2001). Student-assisted teaching: A guide to faculty-student teamwork. Anker Publishing.
Bean, J.C. (2001). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Here are few great new sources of primary documents:
Primary Data Assignments
1. Controversy: Discover the controversy about an issue. Assign two different readings or sites and ask students to categorize what the two sides agree upon and what they disagree about. Is the difference one of evidence or interpretation?
2. Error Regression: One of the great problems of the web (and also of scholarship) is the repetition of errors. If an encyclopedia misprints a date of birth, most later sources will simply replicate the mistake; it takes some serious cynicism to request a birth certificate for a well-known historical figure. If you can find an error about your field on a popular website, the chances are this error is repeated on hundreds of other sites. See if students can discover the source of this error and correct it.
3. How Does it Work?: For most processes or systems there are at least two levels to how something works, the theoretical level (think about how a bill becomes a law, for example) and the practical level (from lost paperwork and typos to the applications of power and politics). Ask students to use source data to compare the theory with the reality of a process.
4. Needle in the Haystack: Most primary data sets are huge (the Human Genome Project or the Congressional Record, for example). Asking students to find a detail (what gene is overexpressed in breast cancer, for example) generally requires some understanding of the conceptual framework and the organizational principles of the data. With the right question, students will learn on their own the structure to get to the detail.
5. The Creative Process: From Bach to the Constitution and from Watson and Crick to Mark Twain, the drafts, papers, letters and sources of important work abound on the web. Comparing differences between drafts leads to substantial questions and creates a sense of urgency.
Labs have traditionally been a key component only in science courses, but as students, parents and employers seek more real world experience (in other words, more immediately transferrable practical job skills), laboratories for practical application are becoming more common. In the business or engineering school this can mean an internship, a case study or a real client, but can some of this be done virtually?
Investing real money in the stock market is risky, but software makes it easy to simulate and the results equally quantifiable. While there is no substitute for building the actual device and getting it to work, hardly a product exists that is built without a serious level of virtual construction and modeling. For example, virtual reality allows Procter and Gamble to test both the design of product containers and how they will look (or fit) on the shelf in different countries.
The “wet” science lab is not about to go away, but virtual labs have some advantages.