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Setting up Student Centered Discussio

IF Blog Post #1

Setting up Student Centered Discussion

This first blog addresses some “basics” of setting up IF discussion in my class.  I hope that once the basics are laid out, I can focus on reflection and analysis in future posts.

The Project

The course is an upper level seminar on Food, Culture and Communication, for Interpersonal/ Communication Studies majors. The IF discussion is built around a collaborative group project linked to course readings. Every week the students conduct an IF style discussion around the meaning and implications of the readings, looking at consequences and making connection between that week’s readings and course concepts. In their discussions students were asked not to rely too heavily on their opinion or on  team mates’ opinions but to provide support (or evidence) from course. In doing so, they were encouraged to move beyond simply presenting the evidence to engaging with it, and to consider the implications and consequences of the readings.

At mid-term and at the end of the semester, students pull together the content of their discussions and write analysis papers considering the following questions.

Ø  What is the meaning of food as communicative practice?

Ø  How does food help in developing cultural frameworks?

Ø  How have your perceptions of food changed in cultural, social, economic contexts? How have societies perceptions changed?

Ø  How does food affect our daily life? Our self? (including issues around health, body image and lifestyle)

Ø  What impact does food have on identity, including socioeconomic class and gender?

Ø  What have you learned about the politics of food production and distribution, including issues of social activism and food policies?

The collaborative group discussion project is worth 50% of the course grade, so students have substantial incentive to take their discussions seriously.

Group Logistics

Students in the class are fairly homogenous with regard to gender (with only one male to 17 females).  Ethnicity was slightly more varied, with two Latinas, two African Americans and fourteen Caucasians.  All students are seniors.

I randomly assigned students to groups through Blackboard (the CMS used at my university).  There are 4 groups: two groups of 5 students and 2 groups of 4. Group assignments were made in the second week of class.

On the first day of class we discussed the Collaborative Group Project and learned about the IF Discussion process. We then demo’d a discussion process by doing a “cultural analysis” of bagels.  I brought in bagels and cream cheese as a way of beginning the discussion, and I served as facilitator.  Two students volunteered to serve as Recorders. We posted Facilitator and Recorder notes online.

By the second week of class, group assignments were completed.  Students spent an hour in class getting acquainted with their team mates.  They also drew up Facilitator/Recorder schedules where each student took it in turn serving as Facilitator and Recorder.  We also spent class time learning how to use Bb. Although most students knew how to use Bb, groups took the time to work together to become familiar with their private online group space (in Bb). This is an area where groups post Facilitator and Recorder notes, share files and work on projects, as well as communicate for more social purposes in a chat room or discussion board.  Students were informed that they MUST work in this site to maintain records – and so I can grade for them for the assignment.  Facilitators and Recorders must post their discussion notes the day before the next class meeting at the latest, to give me time to review their postings.

By the third week of class, discussions were in full swing. For the first half of the class (which meets for one three hour period, weekly) we discuss issues from the readings together.  The last hour (or hour and a half) of every class is set aside for discussion of meaning, implications and consequences. During this time I circulate among the groups to observe their discussions as well as working on helping them with the process if necessary.

Where we are now

Discussions have been progressing well for the most part.  That is, three groups have become comfortable with the discussion process.  Facilitators come in prepared with questions to guide the discussion, and in these groups most members are well prepared and participate effectively.  The fourth group is somewhat problematic as members do not do the readings, miss class often, and (perhaps because of the latter) demonstrate less facility with the discussion process.  I am working with this group quite intensively so will hopefully see some change for the better.

More to come. In my next posting I will discuss challenges and rewards thus far.