Friday, June 29, 2007

Beyond debates and conversational roles (Protocols Part 1)

A book that has been very helpful to me when thinking about ways to engage students in discussion is Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. If you (and your students) are tired of debates or being assigned conversational roles (such as devil's advocate), check out this book. Here are a few of the discussion protocols I use and really like.

The Circle of Voices (Brookfield & Preskill, pg. 80)
  1. Pose a question, read a passage, etc. that focuses the discussion.
  2. Ask students to form groups of 4-5.
  3. Allow students a few minutes of quite time to organize their thoughts.
  4. Each student in the group then has 3 minutes of uninterrupted time to respond (this can be done sequentially, or in whatever order, as long as everyone speaks for 3 minutes).
  5. After everyone in the circle has had their 3 minutes, the discussion is opened up with the following ground rule: Students are allowed to talk only about other people’s ideas, not expand on their own ideas (unless asked a direct question).

Circular Response
(Brookfield & Preskill, pg. 81-2)
There are 6 ground rules:
  1. No one may be interrupted while speaking.
  2. No one may speak out of turn in the circle.
  3. Each person is allowed only 3 minutes to speak.
  4. Each person must begin by paraphrasing the comments of the previous discussant.
  5. Each person, in all comments, must strive to show how his or her remarks relate to the comments of the previous discussant.
  6. After each discussant, the floor is open for general reactions (timed or not).

Hatful of Quotes (Brookfield & Preskill, pg. 82-3)
  1. Write/type 5-6 sentences/passages/quotes from the text onto slips of paper (one slip of paper for each student in class).
  2. Put slips of paper in a hat.
  3. Have each student pull a slip of paper from the hat.
  4. Give students a few minutes to organize their thoughts about the quote on the slip of paper.
  5. Each student reads quote and comments on it (timed or not).
Note: What is interesting about this activity is that since there are only 5-6 quotes that students are reacting to, that they get to hear others’ views about the quote they commented on (or will comment on).

Designated Listeners
(Brookfield & Preskill, pg. 96-7)
  1. At some point in the semester, each student takes on the role of the designated listener.
  2. During a discussion, the designated listener does not contribute (except to ask for clarification of someone else’s contribution).
  3. At the end of the discussion, the designated is responsible for summarizing the discussion.

There are additional discussion and groupwork protocols I like that I will share in future blog posts, Parts 2-4. In these future posts on protocols, I will share ideas on how to use them to facilitate asynchronous and synchronous discussions in online courses.

Related posts in this blog:
Discussion ground rules
Don’t jump into discussions
Engaging quieter online students
Small groups reporting out to the large group?
Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment
Structures for asynchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 2)
Structures for synchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 3)
Structures for small groups reporting out to whole group (Protocols Part 4)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Small groups reporting out to the large group?

I like to use small group activities in my classes because small group discussions have the potential of giving each student a voice and having students dig deeper into a subject even with limited time. I also like to have the small groups report out to the full group to share what their groups discussed and so on. However, this can sometimes be on the dull side...and it is hard for students to attend to this reporting out, especially if it is at the end of a class session.

So, a few strategies I use to help avoid boring report outs are described below. These strategies -- Rotating Stations, Snowballing, and Jigsaw -- involve students in small group discussions, while allowing for the benefits of reporting out in a different way.

Rotating Stations

  1. Set up discussion stations in the room, with a different provocative issue to discuss at each station.
  2. In groups of 4-5, have students rotate every 10 minutes to a new station.
  3. Have each group record their ideas about the issue on flipchart paper at each station.

  1. Discussion starts with one-on-one discussions.
  2. After designated amount of time, pairs join with another pair, forming a group of 4.
  3. After designated amount of time, quads join with another quad, and so on, until whole group comes together.

  1. Groups of 4-5 students become experts on a particular issue/topic.
  2. New groups are formed. Each new group includes an expert from one of the original groups.
  3. Experts lead new group in a discussion on their area of expertise.

Related posts in this blog:
Discussion ground rules
Don’t jump into discussions
Engaging quieter online students
Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment
Beyond debates and conversational roles (Protocols Part 1)
Structures for asynchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 2)
Structures for synchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 3)
Structures for small groups reporting out to whole group (Protocols Part 4)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Co-teaching as a workload reduction strategy

I receive a lot of email from colleagues regarding an article I wrote on workload reduction for online teachers. In reflection, I realize that there is a workload reduction strategy I frequently rely on, but failed to mention in the article -- co-teaching. It is true that it can take additional time to coordinate with a co-instructor, but having taught online as a solo instructor and a co-instructor, I find co-teaching enriching for the learners and for me. Besides the multiple perspectives and complimentary strengths, the shared responsibility makes a big difference in terms of workload...when it works well. I have been blessed in two of the online courses I teach to co-teach with a colleague who is an excellent teacher.

When you teach online you want to be connected all the time -- to make sure you maintain a strong teaching and social presence so learners never feel isolated or disconnected. Co-teaching allows you to share the responsibility for being online all the time. For example, when co-teaching an online course a couple of years ago, I experienced a personal tragedy that required my full attention and all of my energy. I saw that my co-instructor was online and available for questions, so I gave myself permission to disconnect and focus my attention on my needs and my family's needs. If my co-instructor hadn't been available, I would have had to make a difficult choice -- not allow myself to take the time to work through a difficult personal situation, or to try to juggle both the needs of my family and the needs of my online students...which would most assuredly lead do me doing a poor job in both arenas, and possibly doing damage to key stakeholders in both arenas.

Workload issues in online education are challenging. It is important to think about your own well-being as an online educator, as well as the well-being of your learners, and build in some "training" for learners on how to reduce and manage workload and related stress.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On quiet facilitation

Recently, I've had the opportunity to sit in on a colleague's course -- to be exposed to the content, and exposed to good teaching. Watching others in the activity of teaching has always been a great way for me to learn how to teach (or how not to teach).

The main aspect of my colleague's teaching that has stood out with every class meeting is the quiet confidence, calm demeanor, and steady flow of the experience. This approach is the opposite of mine -- I tend to perform, with lots of high energy, drama, theatrics. At first I was caught off guard, and I wondered how my colleague would hold the students' attention. After all, the students had been working all day and were now sitting in a classroom, tired and hungry. This translates to nervous energy, lots of figeting and twittering, checking cell phones, unability to sit still.

So, I watched. Slowly, the students calmed down too, started to attend to what was being discussed, started to take notes, ask questions, respond to questions. They sat up straighter. Their eyes even looked brighter.

Now, my colleague is a great storyteller, and clearly knows the content. And, there is no discomfort with long pauses, letting a question hang out there while the students reflect and prepare a response. So, all of that is part of it. But the quiet facilitation must have something to do with the chemistry of the class. I believe that it is through this quiet facilitation -- as opposed to the type of big-top performance I try to create in my pursuit of engagement and motivation to learn -- that the students become engaged. After their hectic, crazy days, they come to a place of calm...a place where they are supported in their intellectual pursuits through discourse, without the pressure to perform.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Legos and teamwork

I tend to involve students in a lot of teamwork activities. Besides determining "rules of engagement" and making decisions about how teams and individual team members will be assessed (please see the "Creating structures for effective groupwork" post on May 16, 2007), I think it helps to involve students in teamwork activities early on that are low-stress and serve as teamwork practice. One of the activities I like to do in an on-campus course is give each team a bag of Legos. I give them 20 minutes to create something with the Legos that serves a purpose beyond artwork. Then they have an additional 10 minutes to prepare their pitch -- what their creation is called, what the catch phrase used in all marketing materials will be, who their audience is, and how they will market it. Then they give their presentation to the rest of the class. After all of the presentations are done, I have the groups spend 5-10 minutes debriefing what worked and didn't work regarding their collaboration, and coming up with 3 lessons learned about collaboration. Each group shares their lessons learned, and these lessons are later reviewed and incorproated into the "rules of engagement" team contracts.

Besides being a fun activity that gets the creative juices flowing, it helps bring to light some aspects of collaboration that teams need to address early on to make sure they are both effective and efficient in the work together.