Monday, September 13, 2010

Activity for Narrowing Down a Topic

Today I participated in a good class discussion about academic dishonesty, plagiarism, and narrowing topics down to a manageable size. I split the class in half, and had one set of groups talk about childhood obesity and how it could be broken down into a smaller topic for a 5-6 page paper. The other half of the class talked about "reality TV," and how it is influencing society. They were a great class to work with.

The whole activity took about ten minutes. In groups of 3-5 they discussed various aspects of the topic to consider how it could be narrowed down from a large, book-sized topic to a more workable essay-sized topic. After five minutes, a scribe wrote down answers from the groups on the board, and I inserted comments and suggested ideas. The scribe divided the board in half and wrote the ideas for obesity on one side and for reality tv on the other.

Then I suggested in general terms, that they can always narrow down a topic by population (a demographic), location (geography), and by time period.

Here are some of the results from the group discussions about narrowing a topic:

Childhood obesity

* parenting
* video games/TV (sedentary lifestyles)
* genetics (it's changing)
* future health
* junk food access/availability

"Reality" TV

* perception of reality
* distracts from life
* jackasses (society getting dumber?) Reminds me of Pinocchio movie where the boys play and do bad things, then they become jackasses.
* demographic influence

Narrowing Down a Topic (suggestions from the librarian)

* demographic = population i.e. age group, race, class, single-parent family, income, etc.
* time = last 5 years, last 10 years, the 90s, 19th century, etc.
* location = city, state, region, country, world--even urban, rural, 3rd world, etc.

For the plagiarism discussion, I used a PowerPoint presentation to drive the discussion. Each slide asked a question:
  • What is academic dishonesty?
  • What is plagiarism?
  • What is common knowledge?
  • How can you avoid plagiarism and academic dishonesty?
  • Where can you go for help?

With each question, students wrote down answers on their own piece of paper. Then they discussed their answers with a neighbor before we talked about each question as a class. This method of active learning seems to yield more participation. It leads me to believe that students will more readily accept what they hear from a peer than from their instructor. Also, students like to test their ideas on each other before sharing them with the instructor and the class as a whole.

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