Discussions often require a mechanism for queuing speakers. The most common mechanism has probably not changed in thousands of years: a typically-senior group member (“the moderator”) selects the next speaker from among people who have opted-in to the discussion by shooting their hands into the air. The moderator typically cannot access the information that is important to promoting an effective discussion.

While we know of no evidence supporting its use, this method of moderating group discussions is ubiquitous. Each school year, undergraduates at Princeton cumulatively raise their hands to speak around 600,000 times. This involves Princeton students collectively moving their hands through a distance that stretches from Princeton to Cincinnati, Ohio. And this estimate may be conservative. If we consider all US K-12 and college students, we find a figure of over 160 times the earth’s circumference.

There is probably a much better way to moderate group discussions than the way we do it now.

But we need data

We lack rigorous data about how students experience and interact with academic discussions. By using Palaver to help moderate discussions in your precepts, you will make it possible for us to get the data we need to improve the quality of classroom discussions everywhere. With your help, we will construct the first data set ever to rigorously investigate:

(a) how different groups of students experience classroom discussions,

(b) how they react to different hand-raising and discussion-queuing algorithms, and

(c) effective methods for encouraging greater participation from marginalized and shy students.

Our pre-study survey is available for preceptors and professors to preview here. (You may enter any values or leave the fields blank.) Students who decline to contribute anonymous data will not be invited to complete this survey, and they are still free to use Palaver in precepts.

If you're in Princeton, NJ, sign up here to participate in our lab experiments!

Last modified: 030218 by Simon