Saturday, December 09, 2006
Classrooms Evolved, Part III: Deliberative Learning
In a standard, lecture-based classroom students overrate the power of the professor and thus discount their own contributions. This encourages authoritarian thinking and retards the development of self-efficacy and metacognition. To overcome these problem I run my class as democracies. Formal offices, such as Assembly, the President, the Prime Minister, and the Government Ministers, are elected and hold real power.
First, every student votes for an Assembly. The Assembly is elected as previously described, so that a candidate's representation in the Assembly is proportional to the combined voting power of the students who elected him. The assembly automatically involves every student in the deliberations, either directly (if he votes for himself or another student votes for him) or indirectly (through his vote). Because the Assembly is proportional, every vote counts.
Secondly, the Assembly elects a President. The President is chosen by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly. In the case there are more than two candidates and none receives a two-thirds vote, the lowest-vote-earning candidate is removed, and the Assembly votes against on the remaining candidates. In the case that there are only two candidates and none receives a two-thirds vote, the Assembly can vote one more time. In the case that the Assembly is deadlocked, the Assembly begins electing again, but cannot vote for any candidate it has previously considered. If the Assembly repeats this process such that there is no one left to vote for, the Assembly falls and a new Assembly is elected by the Class. The requirement of a two-third majority avoids the problem of winner-take-all elections, where a slightly more powerful clique could control the class. Instead, any significant opposition will stop a Presidential candidate, forcing consensus picks. Therefore, students who wish to be leaders know they have to appeal to a wide variety of learning styles. Prime Ministers who do not care about the learning of others, either by not paying attention to other's needs or being flippant, are not chosen again. Students want a good grade on their projects, and in a Democracy they realize that their ability to gain one depends on interaction with the different perspectives of their peers.
Third, the President selects a Prime Minister. This is the first stage in forming a Government. The Prime Minister is selected by the President but most be confirmed by half of the Assembly. If the President's selection for Prime Minister is not approved by the Assembly, the President may try a second nomination of anyone, including the first choice. If the President is again rebuffed, the President's Administration falls and the Assembly selects a new President. If a second President falls, the Assembly itself falls and a new Assembly is elected. In my democracies the President is not an executive officer, but merely the head of the class in charge of naming the executive. This prevents a strong personality from running the room.
Fourth, the Prime Minister selects two Ministers, both of whom must be approved by the President. This is the last stage in forming a Government. If either of the Prime Minister's candidates are rebuffed, a second selection may be made of anyone, including re-nominating the candidate for the office again. If the Prime Minister is again rebuffed, the Prime Minister's Government falls and the President selects a new Prime Minister as described above. The proper role of the Prime Minister and his Ministers are described in the preceding section.
The Assembly can find that it has "no confidence" in either the President or the Prime Minister by a majority vote. If the Assembly has No Confidence in the President, then the Assembly must select a new President who will form a new Government as outlined above. If the Assembly has No Confidence in the Prime Minister, the President must then name a new Prime Minister as outlined above. Likewise, the President can dissolve the Assembly and start the process of choosing a government all over again. The purpose here once more is on deliberation, consensus, and student buy-in. Unlike informal learning contracts and other such measures, this process makes students intimately connected with and responsible for how their class is run. It is my experience that student-lead efforts create higher motivation and tougher enforcement than teacher-led efforts.
Classrooms Evolved, a tdaxp series
1. Traditional Methods
2. Social Grading
3. Deliberative Learning
4. Overcoming Doubt
With what level and sections have you tried this format ? Any differences noted between polSci major courses and the " gen ed" polsci courses ?
Posted by: mark safranski | Sunday, December 10, 2006
I've tried classroom democracy  on community college students, gen. ed students in a survey course, and political science / international studies students in an introductory course. I think all three of these tries went better than a piagetian attempt or lecture-based attempts.
Students differed on motivation. Community college students and major students tended towards mastery orientation, with the major students taking the democracy itself as a system to master while community college students used it to help them master their technical skill. Thus the major students devised and implemented clever alternatives to the sort of democracy I layed out, while the community college students used it as a way to select tutors who would help other students in exchange for reduced assignments.
Gen. ed. students were generally performance oriented. Several times there were "coups" with a President or Prime Minister declaring his term extended -- students were focused mostly on grades and so such coups were popular (as they provided more continuity than elections in course structure).
Thus the directional nature of the classroom I describe in this series. I expect that by embedding the democracy within a curriculum you would have a more durable system for gen. ed. students, while still allowing major students the ability to play with the system if they want to.
I plan on handing out an edited version of this philosophy to students on the first day next semester. This system is designed for practical implementation.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Sunday, December 10, 2006