The Deliberative Pedagogy (DeeP) Faculty Collaborative consists of 15 faculty from Davidson College and five other Associated Colleges of the South institutions who are committed to learning and implementing new ways to improve and deepen the quality of their class discussions. Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, these faculty, who come from a wide array of disciplines, studied and discussed different deliberative pedagogy methods, shared their ideas and questions with one another, and worked to embed deliberation in their classrooms. In this special blog series, members of the Collaborative describe and reflect on their experiences developing and teaching their deliberation-involved courses.
The Deliberative Pedagogy strategies allowed my students to begin thinking about deliberation from 30,000 feet, which then improved their overall participation. I tested these strategies in my COM 301 Argumentation class in the Fall of 2021 at Furman University, where I serve as an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies.
We started the semester digging into the Why We Argue? text, and I was kind of surprised at the results. The text is accessible but theoretical. My usual argumentation text is more practical—focusing on the nitty-gritty of things such as cause-effect reasoning and fallacy lists. But Why We Argue? worked in a way my usual text couldn’t. The students got a big-picture view of the reasons argumentation matters.
For each class in those early weeks, the students crafted discussion questions, and I divided them up to tackle them. Thus, they learned how to write open questions that were provocative and argumentative. They took ownership of those questions since they had created them. The following Jamboard is one example of the resulting discussion. The second page especially reveals their thinking. They were getting under the hard issues in democratic deliberation—even exposing ourselves to white nationalism. These exercises benefitted the students by giving them a vocabulary to manage their expectations for class conversations and by privileging collaborative reflection.
As we moved from the theoretical to the practical, I regularly used microdeliberations throughout the semester. A microdeliberation is a 5-minute concentrated focus on a small problem. For instance, when we played Cards Arguing in the Humanities—a game I created using the same format as Cards Against Humanity which reinforces that proposition building is largely and productively formulaic—I divided the students into small groups. After choosing one proposition, each group used the microdeliberation method to identify the single most significant problem that proposition would solve. Later we used the same method for them to identify the way it would solve that problem. This got them started on collaboratively building their argumentative case. Issues seem less daunting in short stints like that, and the time limit eliminates falderal.
In future iterations of the course, I want to bring the students back to that 30,000-foot view. I need to add more reflection at the end of the course: perhaps another chapter in Why We Argue? to apply those standards to the argumentation they attempted in their class projects. Quite practically, the deliberative pedagogy made my students better participants throughout the whole semester. They were active and engaged. They listened wholly and carefully. They spoke up! Starting with the big picture allowed them to understand the value of their individual contributions.
Next spring, I am teaching a capstone class, Communication Ethics, and I plan on using these same strategies. Instead of my instigating the deliberations among my students, however, they will facilitate the discussions. I am planning on including the DeeP handbook on the course reading list. Overall, the Deliberative Pedagogy gave my COM 301 class curriculum a new text and my students a new vocabulary and purpose for their argumentation.