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.
As a participant in the DCI’s Deliberative Pedagogy (DeeP) Collaborative, I was eager to implement deliberative discourse into a senior-level seminar. The DeeP program introduced five types of discourse, demarcated, for example, by the presence of an agreement orientation and by whether the discourse is collaborative or adversarial.
The deliberation I hoped to introduce was both agreement-oriented and collaborative, and my seminar this spring on the economics of foreign direct investment at Davidson College offered an excellent opportunity to do so. The course emphasized student discussion of scientific research. The new course plan introduced an educational component with students being introduced to the idea of deliberative discourse and “wicked” problems, and to the distinction between debate and discourse.
The class discourses were split into two parts: the first was discourse aimed at argument analysis. The agreement outcome was an argument map, based on the idea that students should first understand an argument’s structure before assessing its implication. The argument map exercise was split into two deliberations: the first was aimed at identifying and phrasing a scientist’s main conclusion, often a difficult task given researchers tend to frame empirical results as speaking to multiple possible conclusions. Students grappled with the problem of identifying the “main” conclusion and putting it in written form.
I was surprised to observe students’ abilities to anticipate argument analysis when developing written conclusions: students anticipated premises that would be difficult to defend, then shaped their conclusion into a more defensible form.
Next, students mapped the strongest argument that would defend the conclusion they designed. Premises were defended by evidence, reasons, or both. In economics, reasons tend to be based on economic logic embedded in formal mathematical models, while evidence tends to be factual, statistical, or reference to findings from prior scholarly work.
Having agreed on a written main conclusion and developed the strongest possible explicit argument in its favor, students next engaged in deliberation about the broader implications of the argument. In economic terms, factual research conclusions bear on broader economic and social policymaking decisions entailing cost-benefit analysis. Measures of costs and benefits typically entail value judgments when social problems are considered. Thus, the second level of deliberation required students to weigh competing values to agree with cost-benefit analysis, and thus policy prescriptions.
Looking back, the students in this seminar appeared much more eager to construct and critique arguments than to deliberate about competing values implicated in cost-benefit analysis. Going forward, I will consider devoting more class time toward discussions involving values tradeoffs, and less to argument mapping. I plan to do this using a handout that presents an argument map and conclusion, next asking students to identify and weigh their strongest and weakest points. This will free up more class time to assess cost-benefit analyses and the implicit value tradeoffs therein.
Another challenge was that most of these students had never participated in small classroom discourse in economics before. Next time I will design several trial discourses about low-stakes value-laden topics, to give students more time to practice component skills (e.g., rephrasing and checking for accuracy) students need to develop in order to actively participate in classroom dialogue.
Overall, I think students benefited greatly from structured deliberation aimed at developing their abilities to reach collective agreement about competing values embedded in scientific research conclusions.