I tried something a little different in a recent session in my senior-level seminar in Neurobiology. The class is based completely on the primary and secondary literature in the field. We read three to four articles each week and come together to discuss them in class. I’ve used a variety of group and whole class discussion techniques to keep things fresh and interesting. Some of my approaches are almost classic standards now, like the “jigsaw” technique. You can vary how you approach the “jigsaw”, but one common set-up is to form four groups of four students (or five groups of five, etc). In the first “formation” each group discusses one of the readings, sometimes guided by questions, sometimes bringing their own questions. Then, the groups dissolve into new groups of four, with one representative from each of the previous groups. Each individual reports on their group’s discussion and essentially teaches the new group members the important lessons from the reading.
In class recently, I tried something a little different. I had asked them to bring their laptops or iPads with them. Then, I formed small groups and asked each group to develop a power point slide that was a diagram of the main interactions among the assigned readings. The outcomes were like concept maps of sorts. In making their diagrams, they needed to go onto the library database and find a supporting additional article and integrate those findings into the map. Then, we viewed each slide and talked about the similarities and differences among the diagrams, as well as the new evidence each group found.
During the activity, the groups were animated and very focused on their maps. Each powerpoint slide was different from the next, but had some wonderful common themes.
Each week the students write a short “Commentary Paper” that reflects on the week’s discussion and the papers we read. The Commentaries help me assess the degree to which the students understand the work we did that week and how well they synthesize across weeks. This week those papers were focused, integrative and incorporated the new evidence each group found.
It was a fantastic class activity that I recommend you try out! If you’d like more info, feel free to comment on the blog site.