League of Discussion Awesomeness

I’ve been reading Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog, about positive reinforcement and dog people training. I’m going to try out a new thing for my class this fall, what I am calling the League of Discussion Awesomeness. One of my biggest issues is how to balance discussion and lecture, and more specifically (given the admissions office-selected student body) how to get great discussion out of my students. I am of the strong belief that while different students have different styles, and one of those styles is to listen intently but not participate directly in class. And I simply reject that style. I’m done being the teapot, and my students should be done being the receptacle.

But this means that I run into the problem of some students dominating discussion, with others hanging waaaayy back. And as anyone who has been in the Q&A of any sociology talk on any level, an often-talker is not necessarily a thinking-talker. So how to get lots of high quality discussion across the board. This semester, instead of the normal guesstimating points for participation, I’m going with the League of Discussion Awesomeness. Being in the LoDA guarantees you full marks for participation. And so much more!

Initially, getting into the LoDA for a class means just speaking up in class. But then, a couple weeks in, I’m going to make getting into the LoDA something that requires nomination from your fellow students. When someone makes a ‘LoDA worthy’ comment, students can respond by putting their finger up against their nose. A floor of 3 votes (or something, I’ll calibrate as we go) to start, maybe with the number of votes going up as the semester progresses.

This (hopefully) will have three effects. One, it will create a positive incentive for participation – LoDA gets grades, accolades, maybe even a cash prize or something. Two, it will allow fellow students to have a hand in shaping participation. A big complaint at places like Barnard/Columbia is that everyone thinks they are smart and everyone else talks about trivial, personal, or not-on-point stuff. The voting for high quality discussion – a ‘smart’ comment – allows students to vote for quality over quantity. And three, it will send a signal to the high-quantity, low-quality discussants that their comments are not being received as godly wisdom. Hopefully, this will encourage students to participate more, and participate smarter.

I’m still working out the details, but does this sound like a viable plan? Am I missing something gigantic?

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