Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Using a Panel as an Authentic Audience

I tried something new with my AP Government Challenge Based Learning project this semester.  Instead of calling on them to take action to solve a political problem, I went for something more abstract.  I asked them to come up with a “health care solution” that would be presented to a “panel of experts” of their own choosing.  I had a very small class that was divided into two teams.   I’m using this post to work out my take-away from this portion of the project.  
Would I use the panel idea again?
Absolutely.  Both teams had extremely valuable experiences with their panels.  An engaging conversation was held on the topics.  Though the discussions did not always focus on the solutions offered by the groups all of the panelists brought information and experiences to bear that made us all co-learners about the subject.  In each case we all benefited from an hour or more of charged conversation.
In the end, who were the panelists?
I was disappointed that  the students did not recruit panelists from beyond their own personal comfort level.  All of the panelists ended up being parents and teachers.  They were pretty much treated with “kid gloves”, but I am guessing that less familiar guests would have had the same attitude.  Regardless, I’m not sure how clearly the students heard the flaws in their plans.  In one case the panel selected had somewhat squishy credentials for offering specific feedback on the medical/insurance areas of the solution.
How did an “authentic audience” effect the quality of the presentations?
In both cases, having a panel audience raised the bar.  The girls were well groomed, gracious hosts, and extremely professional in their presentations.  They chose excellent venues and provided refreshments.  They catered to their panels’ meeting needs by scheduling the presentations for a Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively.
What would I do differently?
They very nature of the challenge-- reduce the cost of health care for a specific cohort was almost ridiculously daunting.  The students by and large did a good job informing themselves about issues.  But even with research, by the time they presented to their panels, they were rather fuzzy, consequently the panel almost had to help them clarify the discussion points.  I would have started with something more narrow in order to produce a more engaging discussion.  The students generally could not defend their positions because their solutions were general and relatively unexplored.
Now that I have sat in on two such panels, in retrospect I would provide more guidance to the groups for leveraging the experience.  One group provided an outline of the presentation, which was an excellent idea.  Perhaps setting some criteria for panel selection (or brainstorming criteria) would have been useful. 

One group reported being “taken aback by the negative feedback.”  Obviously, I had not prepped them to invite such feedback.  From my perspective any criticism was offered couched in great praise.  I think the students needed some guidance about the great value of constructive criticism.
Flickr CC Photo by codepinkhq

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