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Table of contents

Handling strong emotions and disagreement that arise in a discussion can be a challenge for instructors.


A certain amount of disagreement is desirable, yet if the conversation gets too heated or antagonistic, it can inhibit participation and squelch a productive exchange of ideas. When emotions are high, remind students to focus on ideas and refrain from personal comments this stipulation can be included in your ground rules as well. Also, consider in advance how you will handle sensitive discussion topics.

Discussions that do so may not be comfortable for some participants yet still have the desired effect. On the other hand, done poorly such discussions can stifle rather than stimulate engagement and learning. Also, think about whether the discussion environment in your classroom is sufficiently inclusive of all your students, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, religion, etc. As a prelude or addition to full-class discussion, consider giving pairs or small groups of students the task of discussing a question or problem.

Group work tends to work best when the task is clearly defined and concrete.

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It can facilitate group work to assign roles within the group. Assigning this last task to a quiet student can help to draw him or her out. Click on this link for more on group work. While we all want students to participate in discussions for the sheer joy of intellectual exchange, not all students may be equally motivated to jump in — at least not initially. Providing extrinsic motivations can be helpful to establish the behavioral patterns that lead, ultimately, to intrinsic motivations. For this reason, many instructors include a participation grade as part of the reward structure of their courses.

For this reason it can be helpful to define what you consider high-quality contributions to discussions and distinguish them from low-quality contributions by using a rubric for discussion that makes your expectations and grading criteria clear. How will you know if a discussion accomplished what you hoped it would? How will you assess your own performance as a discussion leader? There are a number of ways to evaluate discussions. For example, immediately following the discussion, you might ask students to write briefly about what they learned, how their thinking changed, or how the discussion relates to other course materials.

An alternative is to ask students to reflect on the quality of the discussion, answering questions such as: What kinds of contributions were and were not helpful?

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Did everyone who wanted to get a chance to speak? If not, why not? Another possibility is to videotape the discussion and analyze it after the fact; this can be helpful because instructors facilitating a discussion are busy juggling many things at once time management, the flow of ideas, group dynamics , and often cannot assess the discussion as a whole. Davis provides a useful inventory for analyzing the behavior of discussion participants in videotaped discussions , p.

Of course, discussions can be evaluated less formally, simply by asking yourself a set of questions after the fact, for example: Who participated? What might explain the patterns of participation? What questions proved most fruitful and why? How might the discussion be improved to promote deeper inquiry, more student-student interaction, etc.? Try to arrange the physical set-up of your classroom so that it is conducive to discussion.

Some instructors prefer that chairs be in a circle, others in a U-shape, while for small group discussions or debates chairs must be moved and assembled differently. First, what are your objectives? If one of your goals is for students to enter into a dialog with one another, then it is particularly important that they be able see and address each other directly.

Obviously, the traditional classroom arrangement, with the instructor positioned before rows of student chairs does not serve this objective. On the other hand, if the style of discussion or quasi-discussion is Socratic, with the instructor asking questions and students answering, then a more traditional seating arrangement could be successful.

In keeping with your objectives, you might also ask yourself what the arrangement of physical space communicates. Do you want to set yourself apart from other discussion participants, or position yourself as one of them? Do you want to make it difficult for students to avoid participation or do you believe they have the right to opt out? Second, what discussion format s will you use? If you are engaging in a brainstorming session and plan to write on the board, you will need to have students sit where they can see the board.

If you want students to work in small groups, you might consider how chairs and tables can be positioned so that you can walk from group to group, or have students do so if the task demands it. If your discussion is part of a group project that involves hands-on construction or manipulation perhaps of a flow-chart or design , the physical space must be organized accordingly. As a general rule, it is a good idea to set up the classroom so that students can a see each other and b see progress e. Clearly, the configuration of the room itself can limit your options, as can class size.

If you are teaching a class of in an auditorium with bolted-down seats and poor acoustics, the traditional circular discussion arrangement is untenable. However, you would be surprised how much discussion can be accomplished even in large classes link to lament and sub-optimal physical settings. Brookfield, S. Frederick, P. Discussions Some sections adapted from Davis, ; Brookfield and Preskill, Discussions can be an excellent strategy for enhancing student motivation, fostering intellectual agility, and encouraging democratic habits.

You might, for example, want students to be able to: Articulate the arguments made by the authors of two assigned readings and assess the evidence used to support them. Evaluate the arguments alone and in comparison with one another and discuss their contemporary policy implications.

Or… Formulate arguments and counter-arguments for a legal position. We unpack terms such as culture, ethnicity, cultural safety, cultural boundaries, agency, structure, power, discourse and taboos.

What cultural boundaries do medical students need to know about to provide culturally-safe and effective care? Is there such a thing as hospital culture? How could we recognise it? Are power hierarchies in medicine measurable phenomena that can inform medical practice? And if so, what bearing does this have on patient safety? These questions and others are addressed through 12 student-engaged teaching sessions. We use basic components of a flipped classroom format and cooperative learning theory to promote engagement Johnson, Johnson and Smith, ; Kenwright et al.

The teaching sessions are all designed to optimise student engaged learning through in-class activities such as debates, poster design, small-group work and whole-class discussions.

The learning is supported with original visual resources that we have developed for the course see for example, image 1. Image 1. Cultural Maze by T Jowsey, Since its inception in , various spaces have featured as part of the teaching design. Some iterations of the course have involved teaching on a marae traditional Maori meeting ground in the Whare Nui Main Meeting house where cultural knowledge and wisdom is traditionally passed on where students have the rare privilege of hearing from invited Maori elders about their beliefs and practices concerning health care.

The course has included walking guided art tours of our local hospital and guided poetry writing on a grassy hill outside the medical school.

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Changing the learning spaces, and the ways in which students experience medical spaces is an intentional anthropological and teaching technique we use to promote cultural competence and engaged learning. Language is also a strong cultural aspect of our attention in the course. In week one of the course students are asked to compile a list of words in English that they would like to know in Maori and NZSL, which they anticipate will be of value to them as future doctors. Each week thereafter the class begins with students learning 10 words in Maori and in NZSL, and reviewing words from previous sessions.

The course concludes with a Deaf guest teacher, with an NZSL interpreter running a session about Deaf culture and health. By the end of the course students have a strong understanding of the intersections between culture and medicine, they have specific applicable knowledge about Maori and Deaf cultures, and they demonstrate increasingly broad cultural competence.

Over the past twenty years the medical humanities programme at the University of Auckland has developed from students electing to study in a course alongside humanities students, to a comprehensive programme that offers bespoke courses to medical students. At the heart of our medical humanities programme is recognition that the medical arena is constantly changing.

The ways in which we now communicate, engage, and interact with each other have undergone fundamental changes that early medical thinkers and pioneers like William Osler and others could have scarcely imagined. But central to their vison was recognition of the importance and significance of the whole person not just their illness, injury, or disability. That vision is central to our medical humanities programme and is poignantly illuminated in the following poem by one of our medical students. Tears roll down his writhing, broken body.

Screams of anguish, confusion, desperation. He gasps for breath, body shaking.

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His arm snaps outwards, a pale blur. Just sit with him until he passes. Then come and join us on the ward round. Jowsey, T. Medicine Reflections. Auckland: Compassion Publishers: TJ is a medical and visual anthropologist, and lecturer in clinical education at the University of Auckland. Barry, M. Bollen, R. What were the results? Bonato, P. Bourgois, P. Brodie, M. Calman, K. Cavalli-Sforza, L. Courier Corporation.