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Anne Bentley, Lewis & Clark College
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Joined: 04/01/2008 - 8:09pm

Integrating Literature Discussions into the Syllabus

I describe the various ways that I've incorporated literature discussion learning objects (LOs) into my inorganic course in a BITeS blog post. I'm curious to hear more about what others have done.  Do you sprinkle discussions throughout the course?  (At the end of each section? How many?) Do you save them all for the end? Do your students work on articles individually or do you prefer to have the whole class read articles together?

Of course there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.... 

Kari Young, Centre College
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Joined: 07/19/2012 - 1:14pm

I'll bite.

My personal goal for myself in my senior level inorganic course is four primary literature articles that we read together per semester.  Students also look up articles individually in lab as part of their report-writing process.

Most of the in-class literature discussions are taken from VIPEr LOs.  My students usually read the textbook and answer a few online discussion questions (just-in-time teaching model), so on "literature days" the students read the article beforehand and answer 2-3 questions to help them connect with the paper.  Through the online "quiz," they also have the opportunity to ask a question about something that is unclear or identify something they found interesting.  During class time we go over my discussion questions and then work through the list of their questions.  My class is about 12 students, so we have had one large group.  I usually bring snacks.  You have to talk to get a snack.

What I like about this model is that we get to go through the paper slowly and thoroughly.  My students still have trouble reading chemistry articles, so slowing down helps us "translate."  I also choose the articles to show how what we're discussing is relevant to some reasonably current problem in chemistry. 

What I don't like about this model is that often students don't have enough background to discuss even a short article together.  Instead, it ends up as "Q and A with Dr. Young" where I just explain the nuances to the students.  I may need to push them to apply what they learned a bit more.  Or smaller groups may keep them from going straight to me.

Anne Bentley, Lewis & Clark College
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Last seen: 6 days 22 hours ago
Joined: 04/01/2008 - 8:09pm

I love the "you have to talk to get a snack" rule!  I will definitely use that in the future.

I've also done the pre-question approach, where everyone needs to post a question or two to the course management website before coming to class.  Often I've done that when it's a fellow student who is leading the discussion (or presenting the article).

And I've seen the "Q & A" effect, too.  I agree that smaller groups at first may help them come to their "answers" on their own.

Thanks for sharing - I think four articles across one semester is a good rate.

Elizabeth Jensen, Aquinas College
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Joined: 08/10/2009 - 12:32pm

In my advanced (juniors and seniors) inorganic course, I have had regular journal article discussions in class. I schedule an entire class period (50 minutes) once a week for this because I think it is critically important that my students learn to read the literature. I have a small class (typically 5-10 students) and they each pick dates at the beginning of the semester. It usually works out to about two discussions per student during the 15 weeks. They choose any article they like from a short list of approved journals, with a few other restrictions that I explain to them. Each student needs to send me the article citation at least a week ahead so I can provide the article to the rest of the class. Everyone is responsible for reading the article and being prepared to discuss it on the stated day, but the chooser is also the discussion leader. I try to stay out of the discussion entirely, unless the group needs help.

The discussion leader is scored on how well he/she has lead discussion by me and by the other students (using a rubric). Each participant is also scored by me for participation in the discussion (using a simple 4 point scale).  I provide a lot of one-on-one support to the discussion leaders ahead of time: we talk through the article, I suggest the types of questions that would be good to ask, and I post links to a few web resources for leading discussions. Additionally, I always do the first discussion of the semester myself, and let the students score my leadership using the same rubric. This helps, I think, because I model the process for them and they become familiar with the rubric before they are asked to score each other.

Responses from my students are generally positive. They like doing something different in class once a week. They like choosing the articles themselves (I don't try to force any kind of "coverage" of material or topics; we get whatever we get). They typically dread the first leader experience, but feel better after it turns out OK, and then the second experience is fine. Once in a while I have students who don't understand why I'm making them do this, and they can be stubborn, but they almost always change their minds by the end of the semester and say that it was actually one of the best parts of the class. The hardest thing for me is to get sufficient support to the lower-level students who don't ask for enough assistance before their turn. That's why I started making it mandatory that the leader has to meet with me at least once ahead of time.