November 12th, 2009

A Mini-Conference in a Large Class


Now here’s a good idea—developed and used in a large, nonmajors chemistry course. In groups of four, students worked on the development of “a current or historical idea in the field of chemistry.” (p.35) The teacher helped by suggesting potential topics such as chemical bonding and the law of the conversion of matter. Based on their interests, students developed a short proposal for their topic. In it they addressed how they planned to limit the topic. After work had started on the project, students submitted an outline describing how they were going to address the various parts of the assignment (which are explained in the article). This enabled the teacher to provide the group feedback on their progress early in the process.

Roles were suggested for the various group members. The group leader helped the group stay on track and monitored progress on the various aspects of the assignment. The research specialist spearheaded the group’s research effort. The presenter was in charge of the group’s presentation. The group author prepared slides, a final report, and other written materials associated with the projects.

What was unique about the project was the presentation mechanism designed by the authors. During the scheduled final exam time (this project counted the same as the midterm exam: 100 points out of 600 possible in the course), the class participated in a mini-conference with each group presenting the results of their work. Based on their interests, students signed up to attend one presentation other than their own. This meant smaller audiences for the presentation, but other assignments guaranteed that the audience was prepared and engaged.

The faculty who designed this project developed materials, which are included in the article. Students completed a self and peer evaluation—those forms are included. The teachers developed a rubric for grading the whole project, which they distributed to students when the assignment was made—that’s in the article. They assessed the impact of the experience in several ways—those instruments and the results they produced are also included. This idea and the materials developed to support it could be useful in various content areas.

Reference: Borda, E. J., Kriz, G. S., Popejoy, K. L., Dickinson, A. K., and Olson, A. L. (2009). Taking ownership of learning in a large class: Group projects and a mini-conference. Journal of College Science Teaching, (July/August), 35-41.