Group reads – Using Barbara Fister’s Principled Uncertainty

It’s been both a humbling and exciting prospect to return to the face to face classroom. I’m teaching two versions of the same course ‘Digital Technology and Social Media’ for the faculty of education at the University of Windsor. It was a last minute offer, and I saw it as a great way to get my mind around the new LMS that we have at the university. That was my overt reason. Also… I just really wanted to be back in the classroom.

My students are first year education students from two different programs. The age range is reasonably broad, but I would suggest that the majority of them are early career. I have a few students who are more ‘mid-career’ with some teaching experience, but the course is not designed with any previous teaching experience expected.

The activity from this week was originally stolen from Dr. Bonnie Stewart. The article I used was sent to me by Lawrie Phipps. I can’t imagine that there are many ideas that I use in the classroom that I actually made up, but in this case I remember where both the content and the approach came from, giving me the opportunity to give credit where its due.

I’ve used the approach before in a number of contexts. It’s not a terribly complex process. Take an article, break it into pieces, give each piece to a group of students and get them to report back on what they’re reading.

Why this approach

I’ve been in a number of contexts with students and faculty where it has become abundantly clear that students have not had many opportunities to do deep, opinion based responses to readings. Looked at through a faculty lens, ‘students just don’t read what they are assigned’. They are often given LOTS of readings or asked to do ‘summaries’ of readings… but rarely, it seems, given the opportunity to think about one small piece with time to give a response. It’s also a response to which I apply my own context as the facilitator. So each group has a section of the work and is given, say, half an hour to read that section and come up with a perspective on the piece.

Students in both classes responded very positively to the approach. I overheard a number of ‘why have I never done this before?’ and ‘this is the first time I’ve ever actually read one of these things’. We’re those things said so I would overhear? Maybe. Fact remains that they did the reading, and the groups reported back on it. They also seemed to grasp a number of the concepts in ways that I hoped they might. They also took a few of them out of context, which is maybe just as useful in the way it spurred discussion.

What I actually did

  1. I Created a slide deck in google slides that had the article title and link and then a slide each for each of the 7 sections.
  2. I duplicated the slides so that I had the option of smalls groups or large groups. (i went with groups of 2 or 3 and did the whole article twice)
  3. In the class I introduced, broadly speaking, some of the concepts that in the article. I did a bit of early deconstruction of commonly held beliefs that I thought would be useful to setup the content of the article, but didn’t talk about the article directly.  
  4. I explained a ‘group read’ to the class
  5. I walked around the class and assigned students to a particular slide. “Jim and Jane, you guys are slide 3. (slide 3 explains what part of the article they need to read)
  6. I had to confirm (several times) that their responses were not being graded and that they were not, in actually, meant to ‘just do a summary’ but rather have a response.
  7. They took about 25 minutes to get through their article section and to write up a response in their own slide
  8. We took another 25 or so minutes to go around the room and listen to people talk about their response to their section of the article. I tried to engage with each group and occasionally included other groups in that discussion.

So. Takes about an hour. Students do an ungraded, deep dive into an important article in the field and, hopefully, come out the other side with some new ideas or, at least, a better understanding of their existing perspectives.

What did I choose the Barbara Fister article?

This article introduces many of the concepts that I’m hoping to cover in the first term of the course. It takes on the way we ask questions, integrates it with the way we do assignments in universities, runs through the impact of algorithms and talks about some of the things that the students can do about it. Its central focus on uncertainty matches my own research, at the moment, and allows me to have something external to confirm that I’m not just making things up.

The article is also approachable AND written in an academic style I’d love for the students to emulate. It’s the kind of writing I’d love for them to aspire to.

Outcomes?

I got a lot of what I was hoping for from this activity. We had some talk about how google’s algorithms control how we search for things and how we make truth, which is going to be important for future assignments. We started to talk about how task based much of their education has been and how the digital can, if you’re not careful, lead you further down that ‘task based learning’ approach. We also teased out some of the balance between ‘believing experts’ and ‘having your own opinion’ which I feel is going to be a theme that goes on for the term.

Notes for improvement

I definitely should have taken more time to talk about what a good response looks like. It would have been perfect if i’d said “and this kind of response is what I want you to do in your discussion forums” which is the activity they had to do for homework. Thought of that right after class. smh.

I started to lose focus on the last couple of slides. I struggle to stay in those things for a long time. Just need to do a better job preparing myself so that i can be as interested in the last comment as the first.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

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