#TryThis! A Technique For Enhancing Teamwork, Discussion In Class

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This is the 3rd and final #TryThis! post I had planned from several months ago. I never got a chance to post it… until now!

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get students thinking about topics, discussing them, taking a stance, and then having to defend that stance and engage in critical discussion with their classmates? Wouldn’t new ideas emerge, different ways of evaluating a problem be presented, and overall learning be enhanced?

Of course! Students would get practice examining case studies, solving ethical or legal scenarios, and making decisions about real-world situations they may face in the workplace. The possibilities are inspiring!

If we follow Bloom’s Taxonomy, then we should strive for our students to not only understand information, but be able to to analyze and evaluate information.

But it sometimes feels hard to find strategies to motivate students to talk in class. And, let’s be honest: it is just easier to lecture and have students regurgitate on a test, isn’t it? These things, and fear of what will happen when we let go of the “power position” in the front of the classroom, may keep us from truly developing the active classroom we strive for.

One strategy to encourage analysis, evaluation, and discussion in class that I have found helpful is: simultaneous response. I learned about simultaneous response at a pedagogy seminar I attended a few years ago on team-based learning (TeamBasedLearning.org) featuring a very well-known educator Larry K. Michaelsen. Now, I admit I don’t execute it perfectly. Larry had a # of very important rules for its effectiveness. But I’ve managed to lose them over time. Still, I apply the general concept.

It works like this:

The professor poses a question to the class (I usually have it on a slide).

The question asks the students to evaluate a problem/scenario and arrive at a solution. The question usually follows a brief lecture on the related material.

Multiple choice answers are given – usually 3-5, but you can do yes/no, true/false, or agree/disagree as well.

In teams, students discuss the question and arrive at an answer. Students are able to discuss differing opinions related to course content, notes, etc.

Teams write their answer (A, B, C, D, etc) on a piece of paper.

When given the signal, all teams hold up their answer simultaneously.

Why it is Effective

First, students get to discuss the problem in a group – so they discuss the problem and related concepts. I let them use their notes, so they are actively discussing and learning. It is a competition so they want to get it right – they are motivated – and arrive at a group answer. The critical element of discussion gives them time to evaluate the merits of alternative answers they are leaning toward.

Because all teams must hold up their answer simultaneously, they cannot shy away from what they’ve committed to. Normally, quiet students or students who aren’t sure of themselves will just not talk in class. As a result, the most talkative students tend to dominate class discussion – and only 3 or 4 students are talking. But with this technique, their team is forced to defend itself. Naturally, discussion occurs and students see different ways of looking at things. In fact, I’ve found that students get a bit more talkative in this scenario, perhaps because they feel a sense of competition or a need to assert themselves.

Here is a simple example I’ve used in my Principles of PR class.

The topic was law and social media. The activity was predicated with a brief lecture on legal issues PR practitioners must consider, and an article highlighting how new media have posed new challenges to issues like defamation. http://bit.ly/PPR_Defamation . In the real life scenario, Horizon Realty sued a tenant for tweeting the below quote, claiming defamation. The lawsuit against a tenant was thrown out because the defendant merely suggested that Horizon thought it was “ok” for her to sleep in a moldy apartment. The judge ruled that the tweet was too vague to satisfy the strict test for defamation.

Question: In your assessment, do you agree with what happened in the case where Horizon Realty sued their tenant  for Tweeting “You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s ok.”? (Be ready to explain!)

A. Agree.

B. Disagree.

While this is a question asking their INFORMED OPINION, students are reminded after the discussion that the burden of proof is on the defamed and therefore, if one was to follow the law as it is applied, then one would would be inclined to agree.

Questions such as this raise great discussions and empower students to express their knowledge and their opinions about what should have been done in a scenario, or in regard to an issue, law, etc. Of course, other types of questions can be asked where one’s opinion does not come into play. This technique is adaptable. I used it here in a lower-division course, but it can also be used in upper division courses for just about any subject matter. The purpose is to drive students to use their knowledge of a subject to analyze material and make real-world decisions.

I use this technique a lot and I love it. It is one of my favorite because students engage with it. Of all the techniques I have used, it has been the best way of getting all students involved!

Key Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. The question is important – I have written a few duds myself and am always looking to find ways to write better questions for this exercise. To me, a good question is one that 1) challenges the students to think about the application of materials and how they come together for the problem, and that 2) inspires student discussion.
  2. Teach them the rules – This is essentially a game. Students are getting to compete! But it is probably something quite different from what they’ve done in other classes. So it is important that you clearly explain how the exercise works. I like to have a few practice questions – 1 or two “easy ones” that are unrelated to course content to get them to understand how it works.

That’s all for now! If you use this technique or try it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!



photo credit: Bob Xu via photopin cc

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