Debates in the Classroom

Check out this video on Split Room Debates by a former student of 3250, Fatima Sheriff:

I enjoyed learning about using this instructional strategy, especially since I had recently attempted it in my class.

As I was teaching my students to explain the financial consequences of poor health and safety standards, I came across a story about how the UK’s largest construction company has reserved £25m for future health and safety fines.

We split the room into those who believed this was a responsible fiscal decision and those who believed this was an admission of future fatalities and legal non-compliance. Unfortunately, the “debate” devolved into an argument with only a few students contributing their opinions.  I didn’t do a great job of setting the ground rules or facilitating the debate, opting instead to let the students sort themselves out.  It was at the very least entertaining and for some a “memorable” activity, as indicated on a mid-term course evaluation a few weeks later.  It certainly warranted further investigation and perhaps another refined try.

Thankfully, there’s been an inspired debate about debates on our 3250 forum this week, facilitated by Louisa.  There are some really great points for and against the use of debates as an instructional strategy.  With the dust starting to settle, I’m more for the use of debates, agreeing with the following tweets:

When I try this instructional strategy again, I’m going to try to vary it by creating small groups of students on each side of the debate, as illustrated below (but please forgive my illustration skills). Each small group would only debate another small group from the other side of the issue. That way, the opportunity to collaborate is maximized as well as the opportunity for students to participate and have their say.

academic-controversy

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