Best Practices: Using Assignments that Promote Discussion
Divide and Conquer—the Enemy of Learning
The worst group assignments aren’t really group assignments at all. Asking groups to produce a lengthy document or PowerPoint presentation, will NOT promote discussion. Writing is inherently an individual activity. As a result, students will talk less about the content of the assignment and more about how to get it done—who will write what piece or how to “funnel” information about the pieces to the member who will actually do the writing. Either way, the majority of what happens will be done by individual members working alone on their piece of the finished product.
Effective Assignments Require Groups to Produce Decisions.
Think of the task of a courtroom jury where members are given complex information and asked to produce a simple decision: guilty or not guilty. As a result, nearly 100 percent of their time and effort is spent digging into the details of their “content.” In the classroom, the best way to promote content-related discussion is the use of assignments that require groups to use course concepts to make decisions such as:
- Which line on this tax form would put the company at the greatest risk of being penalized as a result of an IRS audit? Why?
- Given a set of real data, which of the following advertising claims is least (or most) supportable? Why?
- What’s the most dangerous aspect of this bridge design? Why?
- Given four short paragraphs, which is the best (or worst) example of an enthymeme? Why?
This works in virtually any discipline.