Thursday, September 12, 2013

3-minute thesis

This week, my university is running the 3-Minute Thesis Competition. This requires participants to provide a 3-minute summary of their research thesis. The presenters have no guarantee that members of their audience know anything about their discipline or their topic. It’s tricky – and many of them can’t do it.

My advice to them is to imagine that they have only a few minutes to describe their project to a friend of their grandmother’s at the Christmas Party.

This is a technique that could work as a classroom activity for large assignments or projects. It will force students to be very clear about what they are writing about.

For more information about the 3-minute thesis competition, go here:

Group work in unsuitable spaces

Quite often, I hear my academic colleagues say that it is too difficult to run learning activities in a tiered lecture theatre or some other horrible teaching space foisted upon them. This strategy requires only that each person is within earshot of three other people.

Try this one: Think, Pair, Square, Share.
  1. Pose a question.
  2. Give students 2-3 minutes to think about their answers (think).
  3. Get students to turn to the person next to them to talk about their conclusions (pair) for 5 minutes.
  4. Get each pair to join another pair to continue the discussion (square).
  5. Have each square report on their discussions (share).
 Don’t let each square report everything they said. Start with one group of four: “Report on one thing you discussed”. Ask each subsequent group to report on something from their conversation which has not already been mentioned. Once there are no groups with any new points to mention (or you have run out of interesting points to report), end the sharing part of the activity.

Korpi’s Rules

Today, in a discussion about engaging learning activities in the university classroom, an academic colleague introduced me to Korpi’s Rules. Walter Korpi is a Norwegian academic and past president of the Research Committee for the International Sociological Association. He developed a workshop-style meeting format for his peers which forces the presenter of new research to be very clear about the work.

It works like this:
  1. A paper for discussion at the conference is selected and circulated.
  2. A member of the group other than the author of paper (the discussant) presents the paper, based only on written material supplied by the author. No oral briefing or interaction between presenter/discussant and author precedes the presentation to the group.
  3. Following the presentation, the author takes questions about the paper.
  4. Finally, the group engages in a general discussion about the paper.
“… accepting a place on the [conference] program entails a commitment to complete the paper in time for others to read it and to come prepared to discuss papers. Equally, participants may expect to serve as discussant for another paper, and to open the floor with an incisive and fair assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.”
I can see this technique working as a classroom learning event. Not only does it force good, clear writing, it introduces social science students to a practice used by their more senior discipline-based colleagues.