It’s always powerful when students’ original thinking plays an integral role in the structure and design of lessons. Making this thinking known and/or visible can foster a sense of ownership among students. In this video, Jane Mansbridge uses student reading responses to structure a tightly structured discussion and ensure that diverse perspectives are heard.
If efficiency and accuracy are the goal, finding a way to keep students’ contributions short becomes imperative. Doing so can grow less uncomfortable, however, once expectations are made clear about airtime. Building strong relationships with students always helps, too. In this video, to facilitate an efficient discussion, Jane Mansbridge sets explicit expectations about student contributions. In doing so, Mansbridge demonstrates that discussion and efficiency need not be mutually exclusive.
Timothy Patrick McCarthy admits that intervening and interjecting in discussions can be an “inelegant art.” If the goal is to have a student-led discussion, then the instructor should mostly let the conversation play out among students. But since the instructor has the end in mind, there are times when he/she should strategically interject to keep the discussion on track. In this video, McCarthy describes the typical pace of his student-led seminar and why he tends to interject more near the end of class.
Making quick mental calculations can at times be an awkward maneuver, but it’s far better to readjust in response to the natural pulse of a class than to forge ahead, blind to the individual needs in the room. Christina “V” Villarreal is carefully attuned to these immediate needs and exercises plasticity with her lesson plans to accommodate them. In this video, she uses the guiding questions outlined in her syllabus to prioritize class time and focus spontaneous discussion.
When disciplinary knowledge is presented only in the abstract, students miss a critical opportunity to understand how this knowledge can be applied to solve professional dilemmas. In Barbara Cockrill’s Case-Based Collaborative Learning (CBCL) classroom, students study key medical concepts on their own and then work together in class to apply this knowledge to realistic scenarios they are likely to see in future practice. As a result, students gain a storehouse of contextual knowledge, real-world clarifications of concepts, and practice solving professional puzzles...
Crafting a strong case requires not only selecting a problem for students to solve but also thinking through how students will solve this problem. Effective cases require a certain level of productive struggle from students. Effective CBCL case solutions are not merely fill-in-the-blank or, as Barbara Cockrill says, “Google-able.” Instead, instructors may strategically bury key information or include potentially relevant details to add complexity to the case. Often the hardest part of crafting a case is achieving, in Cockrill’s words, “desirable difficulty.”
Well-designed cases are intentionally complex. Therefore, presenting an entire case to students all at once has the potential to overwhelm student groups and lead them to overlook key details or analytic steps. Accordingly, Barbara Cockrill asks students to review key case concepts the night before, and then presents the case in digestible “chunks” during a CBCL session. Structuring the case discussion around key in-depth questions, Cockrill creates a thoughtful interplay between small group work and whole group discussion that makes for more systematic forays into...
Student collaboration is instrumental in effective CBCL classrooms. In contrast to impersonal lecture settings, small groups provide students with supportive, low-stakes environments to wrestle with course concepts and test out solutions before sharing their responses with the wider group. In Barbara Cockrill’s CBCL classroom, small groups of four are maintained through the entirety of the semester. The close relationships that students build with each other are sustained through norms that groups set for themselves. Cockrill reflects that this collaborative...
Though small group time is student time, instructors can glean important information about student learning by strategically eavesdropping. In this video, Barbara Cockrill reflects on her rationales for continually circulating during small group case discussions. Among those discussed are listening for and addressing misconceptions, priming particular groups to share out during subsequent whole group dialogues, and finding an opportunity to spotlight quiet students.
While too much storytelling from an instructor can pull a lesson off-track, a strategically placed anecdote from the field can substantially enliven a case. In Barbara Cockrill’s Homeostasis I course, instructors are practicing physicians themselves, and they find ways to purposefully share prior field experiences with students to illuminate otherwise abstract concepts. What one student calls “pearls of wisdom” also spur impromptu but vital conversations about the many ethical dilemmas practitioners face.
A central tension many instructors face is how to keep a lesson moving forward while also encouraging students’ inquisitiveness and answering their questions. As Barbara Cockrill describes in this video, curiosity is something teachers should be careful not to “thwart.” However, some insights or questions raised by students can quickly pull a carefully timed class off-track. In this video, Cockrill describes how she honors students’ curiosity while also managing potential tangents that students raise. In particular, she discusses how to manage the especially inquisitive student and...
Classrooms, especially those at the graduate level, are mosaics of students with wide-ranging backgrounds and areas of expertise. In case-based classes where disciplinary knowledge is situated in context, drawing on this reservoir of expertise can help incorporate more voices into the classroom and enhance case discussions. In this video, Barbara Cockrill’s students discuss the value of working with peers from different disciplinary backgrounds, and Cockrill solicits input from one particular student to make a high-stakes case even more relevant.
While spontaneity and fluidity are important hallmarks of case discussions, effective case discussion leaders always enter the classroom with a teaching plan. In this video, Julie Battilana discusses the key components of a case teaching plan and how to build flexibility into it. By structuring her plan around discussion blocks and key questions, she ensures that she can cover the most important concepts and issues in the case while letting students lead the conversation.
Chalkboards may not be the most advanced instructional tool in today’s classroom, but they are very useful for tracking and organizing student comments on the fly. In this video, Julie Battilana describes how she enters each case discussion having already thought through how and where she will track her students’ comments on the nine chalkboards in her classroom. This planning reaps dividends for students who describe how they use notes on the boards to keep track of their classmates’ points of view and capture the key ideas and frameworks presented during class in...
When students share incorrect or unclear comments in discussion, instructors must tread carefully. Learning how to provide clear feedback without discouraging participants from contributing altogether can be something of a balancing act. In this video, Todd Rakoff employs a range of careful strategies like follow-up questioning, wait-time, and gentle clarifications when he gives students real-time feedback. Such responses aim to increase students’ learning and deepen their engagement.
Once students are in the habit of discussing ideas among themselves, a key question for a professor is when to jump in. When should we provide helpful context? When should we inject a probing question to encourage students to dig deeper? Is it good practice to always correct misinformation? In this video, Timothy Patrick McCarthy shares how he generally strives to hold back in discussion but will intervene when he notices that something “really crucial” to student understanding has not yet surfaced.
An instructor’s personal or political opinions might be less relevant when it comes to some topics, but asserting your opinions on certain controversial issues may be crucial. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal and Tim McCarthy reflect on when and why they choose to assert certain political positions or strongly held beliefs in a discussion, particularly when “a line is crossed” or when “stakes are high.”
Invariably, not all good ideas will be heard during the course of a discussion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be heard at all. By requiring students to write responses to weekly readings before class, instructors can take a pulse on student thinking and use students’ written ideas to plan lectures and discussions. Through timely and detailed written feedback on such responses, Jane Mansbridge establishes an ongoing dialogue with students that extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Exchanges that proceed from student to student without professor serving as mediator can be extremely valuable. As students hash out points of disagreement, the class hears multiple perspectives more constructively than they would during the traditional, professor-driven lecture. In this video, Todd Rakoff pivots between two student comments to encourage students to more actively respond to each other.
Well-crafted discussion questions can carve out spaces for disagreement. They can even encourage it. But cultivating the type of respectful disagreement that helps students grow academically and personally is tricky, especially when students feel strongly about particular issues. In this video, Tim McCarthy models the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that help his students learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable.”