Volume 5, Issue 4 • September 24, 2007


Teaching Narrative from David Ellis

I believe that formal debates between teams of students can help develop vital skills of oral communication and foster a deep engagement with the material.  The problem is the word “can.”  Too often in the past formal debates in my classes developed according to a discouraging pattern: while good students rose to the challenge, many others did not.  And even when the debating teams were comprised of good students, I often had to be outrageously provocative to goad the rest of the class into joining the discussion.  Team debates therefore were often weak links in my courses, albeit links important enough to keep in the course despite their weakness.

Last term I made a number of changes to my debating format, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results.  I found that instead of having to flog the debate along, I became a traffic director, occasionally routing questions, but otherwise watching a remarkably productive flow of critical and insightful comments between students.  In fact, I was so pleased with the results that I am conducting a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project this year to determine whether the better results were a fluke, or whether I have found some means to a more lasting improvement in my courses.

Two important changes have been a shift towards Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and the more intentional scaffolding of assignments.  At the start of a unit students are confronted with a guiding question.  When we begin to discuss the foundation and development of the USSR, for example, students are asked whether Stalin’s goals and policies fundamentally broke with the revolution begun by Lenin.  The students then get a chance to address this problem through three different kinds of readings over several days: a textbook narrative, accounts from eyewitnesses (the interpretation of which are the heart of the course), and conflicting interpretations from experts in the field.  On the day when we discuss these experts' excerpts, teams of two or three students address the guiding question in the debate.  For pedagogical purposes I employ “structured controversy,” another important change.  This forces each team to defend a thesis that I have assigned -- a thesis which contradicts the other team's thesis.  While I usually have students adopt a “pro” or “con” position, I make it clear that they should defend their thesis with nuance and sophistication.  The pro team members have ten minutes to make a case for their answer, and the con team then has five minutes to critique and rebut the pro team’s answer.  Then the con team has ten minutes to make the case for their answer, and the pro team has five minutes to critique and rebut the con team’s answer. 

At the end of the formal debate and rebuttal period, each team then fields questions from the rest of the class, which is encouraged to act as a hostile jury, peppering the debaters with difficult questions.  I know that I can count on the rest of the audience to be active participants because they have reflected on the day’s readings and have listened carefully to the debate.  I know this because of some other changes I have implemented.  Via moodle they have already submitted prior to class their “entry ticket” to the debate – a critical response to readings assigned for debate day.  And the audience members have kept a flow chart of the debate’s main points and counterpoints  -- which I always collect, and which I tell them I will feel free to grade as a quiz.  Audience members also vote for which team they think won the debate.  (The negligible amount of extra credit involved (0.5% towards the course grade) seems to enhance competition between the debate teams.)  To help “prime the pump” for questions from the audience, I have every student write a question for each team, and then each student “pairs and shares,” briefly discussing those questions with a fellow audience member.

Although the changes have led to more thoughtful and lively debates and more engaged audiences, I claim little credit for them.  Most of the major improvements – structured controversy, flow charts, guiding questions, an “entry ticket” to the debate, better integration of the debate with other elements in the course – were suggested by colleagues at Augustana or at SoTL conferences.  Some of you have doubtless practiced them for years, and may have further suggestions to give me, I hope.  But I probably would never have tried these changes if I had not realized I had that most wonderful of things for an academic:  a problem.  If you have one, count yourself lucky – and let’s talk.


Teaching and Learning on Moodle

Peter Saunders' presentation of 15 Survival Skills for Instructors in Higher Education is now available on the Teaching and Learning Resources Moodle site under Workshop Presentations.


New Faculty Programs on Moodle

Help answer some questions from our new faculty by joining the forum conversation on the New Faculty Programs Moodle site.


[POD] Lilly Conference at Greensboro Call for Proposals

We are pleased to host the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching at Greensboro for the 4th year. Last year, 256 individuals attended the conference representing 60 different institutions scattered across the United States and 4 other countries.

Lilly Conferences are retreats that combine workshops, discussion sessions, and major addresses, with opportunities for informal discussion about excellence in college and university teaching and learning. Internationally-known scholars join new and experienced faculty members, teaching assistants, and administrators from all over the world to discuss topics such as diversity in learning, incorporating technology into teaching, encouraging critical thinking, using teaching and student portfolios, implementing group learning, and evaluating teaching.

The 2008 Conference will be held February 8-10, 2008 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro , NC . The 2008 Conference theme is Learning by Design. Additional information about the conference is available at http://www.uncg.edu/tlc/lillysouth/

The deadline for proposal submission is November 16th, 2007 and proposals may be submitted at https://utlc.uncg.edu/conference/lillysouth/form.jsp

Proposal review will begin when proposals are received. An earlier submission date will ensure an earlier response.


SoTL Commons: A Conference for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning

November 1 - 2, 2007 at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro , Georgia

Jon Clauss and Kevin Geedey will be presenting their findings from their Knowledge Survey Project .

Please visit the following website for more information about this conference: http://www.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/conference/presenters.htm

Registrations are being accepted until the conference is full. http://www.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/conference


The following NEW books on various Teaching and Learning topics are now available in the Tredway Library. They will be shelved in the Teaching and Learning section on the main floor, in the display area to the right of the main entrance.

Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses

L. Dee Fink

Call Number : Teaching LB2331 .F495 2003

Developing and Using Tests Effectively

Lucy Cheser Jacobs

Call Number : Teaching LB2366.2 .J33 1992

Learner-centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice

Maryellen Weimer

Call Number : Teaching LB2331 .W39 2002

McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Wilbert James McKeachie

Call Number : Teaching LB1738 .M35 2006

Teacher's Guide to Classroom Assessment: Understanding and Using Assessment to Improve Student Learning

Susan M. Butler

Call Number :  Teaching LB3051 .B88 2006

Team-based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching

Larry K. Michaelsen

Call Number : Teaching LB1032 .T38 2004

Using Student Teams in the Classroom: A Faculty Guide

Ruth Federman Stein

Call Number:  Teaching LB1032 .F42 2000

Writing Instructional Objectives for Teaching and Assessment

Norman Edward Gronlund

Call Number :  Teaching LB1027.4 .G76 2004


International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (IJ-SoTL) - a peer-reviewed, open access, academic eJournal. The submission deadline for the January 2008 issue of IJ-SoTL is November 15, 2007 .

The current issue is online at http://www.georgiasouthern.edu/ijsotl/current.htm

To receive an email notification when new issues of IJ-SoTL are published, go to



The Teaching Professor : http://www.magnapubs.com/issues/magnapubs_tp/


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