Monday, October 12, 2009

How not to have class discussion

Here are some principles that were reinforced to me recently that will lead to class discussion FAIL.

0. Have too big of a class for discussion anyway, and hold it in a big lecture hall.
1. Not require the reading assignment be done and not remind the students discussion is coming up.
2. Not set an expectation among the peers that the reading assignment be done in advance.
3. Let the one person who has done the reading assignment carry the entire discussion.
4. Allow entire groups in which no one has read to just "check out" (including texting because the discussion must not apply to them).
5. When the few who have read share, use it as a chance to explain to those who haven't read what the heck is going on.

What a drag. Next time we do this, draconian measures will be implemented. There will be a quiz at the beginning of class given over the reading. It will be short and no one will be allowed to take it late. Then maybe people will come prepared. Grrrr.

We have tried having the group members rate each others' efforts. They feel so guilty for their own failings that they can't judge anyone else harshly. So everyone gives everyone else As even though there were half assed efforts across the board.

I'm so glad I teach in science where really squishy measures aren't usually the assessment norm.


  1. May I also suggest if it is articles you are discussing, have them do a write-up. It should be short (one page). First paragraph summarizes the article, the key experiment/result (including why it is key). The 2nd paragraph is a critique of the article (experimental design, discussion, etc.) and suggestions for future experiments. The papers are due at the beginning of class. Grade them. I found this got students to actually read the papers & even better many of them actually thought about the articles before discussion. On top of that the students very quickly learn to write concisely.

    I have seen people write questions to be answered before the discussion & handed in. Care must be taken to insure they aren't the type of question that requires no more than scanning for an answer. The latter makes for a similar situation as you described.

  2. Thank You!! I am always open to ideas on how to imrove things!