Student Differences and Deliberative Learning

Because of maddening and inferiority problems with my blog hosting service, a comment I wrote to Mark of ZenPundit did not go through. Mark had a question on deliberative learning over at my series, Classrooms Evolved, and as Mark was kind enough to link to those posts, I do not feel good letting him wait until blogspirit gets its act together. (That could, literally, take forever.)

My reply is below:

I’ve tried classroom democracy on community college students, gene. 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.

Phil’s question over at “Open Thread” is also still hanging, but Catholicgauze and Sean seem to have that covered. (I don’t have the original text of my comment anymore, so I hope it stops being AWOL soon!)

Classrooms Evolved, Part IV: Overcoming Doubt

Every class I have ever had has challenged this system. Students, wise from more than a decade of classroom instruction, have figured out that teachers lie to them and that collaborative learning is really just a way for a teacher to lecture and then act grumpy when students don’t talk up. So students, who don’t like hypocrisy, attempt to expose it by spending an entire class period on parliamentary procedures, or letting the class leave early after ten minutes, or some other stunt. They are, like good scientists, attempting to determine the real rules of the class by seeing what a teacher does and not just what he says.

An example of this is an election I observed in the Fall of 2006. The most lopsided race I have ever witnessed began with students offering chocolate to others who vote for them. I recognized this as a challenge, and so allowed it. Another student offered himself as a candidate, stating “I don’t know what to do, but I know this is not fair.” He received twice as many votes, and he offered nothing but fairness. Interestingly, he did this with the help of a defector from the bribers. One of those students, the last to vote, said “The class is clear what it wants. It wouldn’t be fair to vote for ourselves and so against himself. Too often we assume that students are greedy cretins and that peer pressure is our enemy. Often, the reverse could not be more true.

It is after the challenges that teaching becomes delightful. Recently, for example, I walked in early as students were negotiating how the class would be run. They understood the basic rules and knew that those guidelines would be consistently enforced. This allowed the students to think ahead about how classroom matters should be solved, and not just strategically worry about what a professor said that day.


Classrooms Evolved, a tdaxp series
1. Traditional Methods
2. Social Grading
3. Deliberative Learning
4. Overcoming Doubt
5. Conclusions

Blogspirit: User Hostile Design

As I commented to Curtis, blogspirit is acting up again. (I am completely unsurprised.) Blogspirit’s service recently has been terrible. I would not recommend anyone use it. Only the fact that 60-80 hour weeks are pretty typical for me right now prevents me from transitioning over to a better service.

At the time I started this blog I had just finished with my Computer Science master’s thesis. I did not want to do any more programming for a while, and blogspirit offered three big advantages that blogspot didn’t. (At the time I didn’t know how much I would enjoy blogging, so I looked only at free services)

1. functioning trackbacks
2. categories
3. an easily modifiable design

However, blogspirit currently has a gigantic problem: it eats comments. Sometimes they don’t go through at all. At other times I have to wait days for them to be posted. Worse, blogspirit tech support has told me they only notify bloggers after one of these partial systems outages is complete, meaning I have no way of knowing the status of these problems while it happens.

I am sickened and disgusted by blogspirit’s anti-user, anti-community problems. I am disappointed and saddened by the way tech support has gone from being helpful to being adversarial in its approach. I am sorry that replies I have penned over at Open Thread and Classrooms Evolved, Part III: Deliberative Learning are in limbo for who-knows-how-long. I am sorry to all the people whose time and energy blogspirit wastes.

Is there anything good to say about blogspirit? Yes. They are not crooks. They are not unethical.

Just incompetent.