The course: Political Economy of Media.
A fairly standard second year course. One of those electives that attracts a mix of communications and political science students, with a mix of others taking it as an interesting elective.
The topic of this class: The role of the public Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the media landscape of Canada.
The method of teaching: split the class into two halves, rearrange the desks, and create a mock parliament with a government and opposition to debate a motion from the government to defund the CBC.
The result: Transforming a typically dry lecture about public culture policy into an fun interesting learning experience that motivates students to learn and even generates discussion outside of the classroom among the Twittersphere.
I happened to be on campus Thursday for another event and was visiting a few professors on campus when I saw a tweet from Dr. Laurence Mussio:
— Laurence B. Mussio (@DrM_McM) November 20, 2014
I couldn’t resist – I had to sit in on the class and its debate. (Dropping in on lectures is one of the things I miss most about being a full-time student. Even as a higher ed reporter, I’d often visit a campus for a story and take in an unrelated lecture)
I hastily jogged to the class’ building, and sat at the back of the class.
I arrived just in time for “the government” to rise with their motion to defund the CBC.
What struck me immediately were a couple of things: the mock parliament layout of the classroom desks; the projection of a Twitter hashtag wall at the front; and that each of the students had their laptops open and none of them were on Facebook.
The DebateThe first student raises for “the government”, arguing why the CBC should be defunded. I was immediately struck by how well the student was arguing her points against the CBC. As I listened, I was reading the tweets the students were publishing using the hashtag #FundorDefund
The motion to defund the CBC is now on the floor. The debate is underway. On the opposition side, the students are busy typing on their computers.
A few are tweeting, but most of them are busy writing in a Google Document. Both sides are using Google Docs to organize their points and counter points.I’m struck by each student in the row in front of me having a page of their own research notes completed prior to the class.
They really prepared for this lecture. The room is full, a few students tweet about the impressive attendance.
Personally, if it were a traditional lecture, I doubt I would’ve showed up (boring, I’ll borrow someone’s notes or recording), and I very much doubt I spend time preparing for the class with pro/con research.
After the first speaker, the government side’s arguments weaken.
A few of the students argue CBC should be defunded because of CBC’s Board of Directors are political appointments, and are usually party hacks appointed as patronage.
That’s not an argument to defund the CBC, it’s an argument to remove patronage from public appointments.
The opposition raises, it’s time to tackle the government’s motion and defend the CBC as a viable public service essential to Canadian culture.
[I wish I took notes, cause I don’t remember the exact statements. I didn’t plan to write anything about the debate.]
This is where the learning really happens. As each side advances an argument, the other is countering.
All the points a professor would make in a traditional lecture are being made – more effectively – by the students themselves. Professor Mussio interjects as needed to bring points into the debate, ensuring the lesson points are debated.
In the “public gallery”, I observe alongside Dr. Phil Savage. Savage is a former senior CBC employee, and the department’s resident CBC expert.
— Dr. Philip Savage (@docsavagephd) November 20, 2014
This adds an element of realness to the debate. Add in the Twitter discussion that now involves two lawyers off-campus, and the classroom is no longer in the university bubble.
I find this dynamic to be interesting. The use of Twitter for side debate and Google Docs means even the shortest attention span student (Which would describe me) is fully engaged in the class.
It was at this moment I wished I were still a higher ed reporter. Is this part of a growing trend in Canadian post-secondary classes? (As I write this, I’m reminded of a saying my first editor would say. Is it new, or is it just new to you?)
The quality of debate was very good. There were a couple of students in the room I’ve met at community events, and a few more I had heard good things about. I left the room very optimistic about the future of communication as a practice.
I also left motivated to see our City work harder to keep these young people living here after they graduate. I guess I have something related to my civic affairs journalism after all: A reminder of the importance of civic politics that encourage McMaster students to settle in Hamilton.
The tweets between students were a big part of the discussion, and some were quite parliamentary in partisan nature. Here’s two of the most partisan:
— Nicole (@reid_nicole) November 20, 2014
— Angela (@saucycoffee) November 20, 2014