Tuesday, October 02, 2007

That's Debatable

The students in one of the classes I am teaching are gearing up for an in-class debate in the next few weeks. Through discussions in class, we selected a controversial science topic that rather neatly divides the students into two camps with opposing views.

It happens that one side is largely comprised of male students, and the other of female students; the students chose which group to be in based on which side of the argument most closely matched their views. I encouraged the students to organize themselves within each group in terms of how they apportion roles and how they will communicate with each other outside of class in preparation for the debate.

It was fascinating watching the students start to organize their groups in class today, though I was surprised at how closely their organizing activities followed classic gender roles. The male-dominated group organized itself to have one leader (a male); the rest of the students in that group will have specific designated roles, and they will probably communicate by email. In the female-dominated group, two of the women decided to act as co-leaders, and students in the group will share responsibility for topics that will evolve through discussions during a group meeting prior to the debate.

In the male-dominated group, the few women didn’t say much during their in-class organizational meeting, nor did the few men in the female-dominated group. In part because of this, I inserted myself into the group discussions to make sure that everyone had a chance to express their ideas. With only this minor amount of interference, it wasn’t difficult to get everyone talking within each group.

I told the students that this debate isn’t about winning or losing an argument; it’s about having an interesting and friendly discussion about an important and controversial topic. Ideally, both sides will be evenly matched in terms of their ability to make a clear and compelling case for their opinion (supported by evidence/data).

Based on what I’ve seen of these students in the past month or so, I expect both groups to be well prepared and articulate. I would be surprised if the major difference in organizational style of each group influences the outcome in a significant way, but I am very curious to see how it all turns out.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know what the topic of the debate is.

Rachel said...

True, unless it's the kind of science that looks like magic (ie, incomprehensible to us non-scientific folk).
But please do post the results...

Anonymous said...

when I've done that in class, we assign people to sides randomly. That way people learn to argue a side they don't necessarily agree with (so concentrate on the quality of the arguments). Also, I think they are more likely to explore the other side's arguments in their preparation work (and be prepared for them), if the group is of mixed beliefs. We always have a chance to reshuffle by belief after the official debate.

Ms.PhD said...

Let us know how it goes! That is fascinating.

ScienceMama said...

What's the topic?!?