Discussion Courses

ceumb at STOLAF.EDU ceumb at STOLAF.EDU
Tue Nov 18 08:47:17 EST 1997

I too would be interested in ideas about discussion courses.  I don't
know what others experiences have been, but my experience has been of
great discussions with non-science students in majors courses but that
science students in majors course don't discuss well/struggle.  I suspect this
results from a combination of large introductory courses and student
misconceptions (develloped in H.S.) that science is about a body of
facts that don't require discussion/thought. Problems with discussion
in Seminar classes (often for seniors) suggests the need to facilitate
discussion in lab and lecture.

That said there are several things that I have tried to encourage
discussion which include; (1) ask students to work in pairs and to
each be responsible for presenting summary of a paper; (2) have
students prepare questions for discussion that they hand out at
start of class, (3) raise a question and then leave room so students
on their own [this also means I can't jump in]; (4) be sure that
students prepare overheads/other so that data from paper(s) can be
displayed and discussed by class; (5) ask class to redesign or design
new experiment; (6) break class into small groups to discuss
same/different questions and then have one of group members report
back to class as a whole.

I think the hardest thing with a discussion is letting go of control
and allowing for possibility that important points may not get raised
or will only be touched upon briefly.  Each class is different and
much of how an individual discussion/Seminar course goes depends upon
the personalities of the students which is largely beyond control.

-Charles Umbanhowar
Dept. of Biology, St. Olaf College (on sabbatical)
1520 St. Olaf Ave
Northfield, MN 55057
ceumb at stolaf.edu

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