Home > Assessment & Feedback, Curriculum Design > Using Debate as a Teaching Format

Using Debate as a Teaching Format

Three years ago at a City University Creativity Workshop I met Kirsten Hardie who teaches Design at Arts University College of Bournemouth. She told me about a method she had invented called “On Trial.” By coincidence, in working with a group of City teachers recently, they quite unprompted suggested the use of a debate format as a method of increasing student engagement.

It was impressive how quickly they came up with a great number of creative ideas to widen the palette of teaching formats. The session focused on devising a learning activity that reflects often currently missing employability skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Reflection
  • Persuasive communication
  • Self awareness

Devising fresh learning activities to promote employability skills

I took Chickering and Gamson’s 7 Principles for high engagement learning, as a benchmark.  We selected two of these: and participants were also encouraged to identify their own. The focus was on fresh learning activities; new ideas.  Here are some of the resulting creative learning outcomes from the participants.

Fresh  learning activities.

  • Reflection: in action and on action
  • Scenarios, role play and simulation
  • Debating
  • Combined learning with another school (interprofessional  learning)
  • A buddy system

The question is how can we enable great ideas like these to be put into practice? For example using debate in our teaching.

So returning to National Teaching Fellow Kirsten Hardie’s On Trial project that  explores the use of role play and debate in student centred learning. It promotes and facilitates creativity in and through learning. Students work with colleagues to explore and interrogate problematic issues relating to their specialism

“On Trial harnesses popular culture, and the seductive qualities of the courtroom, as experienced through television and film examples (both historical and contemporary), in a creative fashion to help students engage with tough academic issues and wider ethical concerns.”

In addition a fascinating article by Catherine Sanderson discusses and evaluates debate as an assessment and learning strategy to develop critical and reasoning skills and stimulate learning through assessment in first year Biomedical Science and Public Health Students.

Sanderson’s work with first year undergraduates indicates that although it may be tacitly understood that critical reasoning is an essential skill for all students, it is far too often left to the final year as a learning outcome or even reserved for post-graduate studies.

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  1. Rae K
    July 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Fantastic example yet again of using Chickering and Gamson and I think this is a really good example of developing employability skills. Do you have any particular suggestions on how I might use chickering and gamson principles to consider how lecturers might adopt learning technologies in their programmes?

    • July 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for your interest Rae. I think this method could be used and adapted to to help teachers focus on any aspect of learning. The two essentials are adequate time on the activity: at least one and a half hours, plus encouragement and support to identify “fresh” learning activities.

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