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Setting Groups in Motion

I am teaching a course on how globalization is changing San Francisco, and am having students collaboratively develop policy proposals for the city by using IF Discussion techniques.  They will develop ideas about policy alternatives, research different facts about changing demographics, resources, existing policy solution to problems they have identified, coming back together for a two hour IF session every two weeks for the semester.

To get them going thinking about these issues, last night I led a lightning round discussion on current “Outcomes” that they could see in San Francisco.  We talked about what made the city distinct, what makes it difficult to live here, who chooses to live here, who is missing (displacement of population is a major challenge), distinct local political identities etc.

I then had students get up and draw links in different colors between different points on the recording sheets.  After they did that, they articulated five central themes that they could see from our entire discussion.

I am going to type up the notes, and have asked every student to tell me which two themes they are most interested in working on throughout the semester and will put them in groups according to their research interests.  From an initial show of hands, it seems there is a variety of interests that should be accommodated.  I am currently debating whether I should have groups of four or five students.  It seems four might be too small.  Any insights?

Students seem rather taken aback, and a bit nervous that so much of the course will be collaborative.  So many people have had bad experiences with group work.  I am hoping this will pass, but maybe they are picking up on my nervousness about doing something so different.

I also typed up five pages of instructions, tips, and descriptions of their roles as moderator, notetaker, participant, and gave them examples of evaluation forms they will fill out after every session.  Seeing the larger road map seems to have made a difference for them.  It leads me to realize that the most difficult part of teaching an IF course like this is setting it all up and then being able to trust that the process will work out in the end.