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Strategy Bites: Critical debate


At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Strategy: Critical Debate 

The Critical Debate strategy involves assigning students a reading (or a problem or a question) on a given topic and having them write two reflections—one arguing “for” and one arguing “against.” In a following class, students are randomly assigned to argue either “for” or “against” in a formal debate with their peers.

Why use it?

The ubiquity of social media has made it easy for people to get caught up in echo chambers—to be less analytical and to quickly argue for or against a topic. We may therefore be in a time when it’s especially important for students to develop their ability to think critically. But teaching students how to do this must involve more than students listening to a lecture on the topic. Students learn through the experience of thinking through different perspectives and then arguing a position. The skill develops from practical application. This is something I really like about the Critical Debate teaching strategy: it must be done through active learning.

The ability to think critically is a skill that students can put into practice both in and out of the classroom. Students can apply knowledge learned in class to real life circumstances. Actually, students can gain a rich appreciation for the complexity of existing real-world debates. This strategy also pushes students to prepare for class, engage with the material, and interact with peers. What I like most about this strategy is that rather than teaching students what to think, it teaches them how to think. Knowing how to think may very well be how we extricate ourselves from the echo chambers.

Would you like to know more?

 Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

How do you get students to apply knowledge to real-world situations? Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M. Sc. graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill University. She is currently enrolled in the M. Ed. Technology Program at the University of British Columbia and works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga, and spending time in nature.  

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

Jasmine Parent is an M.Sc. Graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Education Technology Program at UBC and she works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at TLS. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga and spending time in nature.

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