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DAMJANA MOŽIC: INTERDISCIPLINARY TEACHING USING DEBATE TECHNIQUE

natisni E-pošta

Abstract
Lecturers at the School of Economics, Novo mesto, Higher Vocational College, strive for the highest quality of work with students. Introduction of new teaching methods should help provide them with knowledge that they will be able to use in their professional and private lives. One such method is the "pro et contra" debate.
Lecturers in three first year study courses in the programme Economist decided to include our two-year project for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle into interdisciplinary teaching in the form of a debate. We formed three discussion statements on the importance of health for social welfare.
The following debate statements were formed:
- Concern for the employees’ health is the responsibility of the company.
- Multinationals determine the way of our nutrition.
- Economic development is a prerequisite for social prosperity.

It was our objective that the students learn to project the knowledge they gained in economic subjects, onto the field of health and general social prosperity and to consolidate and broaden their knowledge. They should also get used to teamwork and independently and autonomously advocate their points of view. Students had to analyse different articles, write down the pros and cons of technological development and progress in general. The students were assigned the statement and their debating team by a draw. All debates were assessed by a panel of lecturers from various subject areas. They assessed the presentation of arguments, rebuttals and concluding statements and declared the winning team.
The final evaluation, which was a guided self-reflection, showed that by preparing for the debate and with its implementation, the students learned more than they would in traditional lessons.

Keywords: interdisciplinary teaching, debate, debate statement

1   INTRODUCTION

Higher Vocational College (Višja strokovna šola) in Novo mesto belongs to the tertiary level of education in Slovenia. We strive to educate competent young people who will be competitive on the labour market and will be able to adapt to the world of global economy.

At present, we offer two study courses: for economists and media production engineers. Both are two-year programmes with a compulsory ten-week placement in each study year, enabling students to acquire the necessary professional knowledge.  

In addition to professional courses, the study programme includes two foreign languages – English and German. The foreign languages syllabus is very complex and involves a lot of professional terminology. The topics are related to other professional courses; in the study programme for economists e.g. with accounting, sales and marketing, business finance.

Foreign language lectures as well as all other college lecturers strive for quality work with students. We are trying to include new teaching methods to equip the students as much as possible with useful knowledge, which they will benefit from in their future careers and private lives.  

 

2   TEACHING PROFESSIONAL FOREIGN LANGUAGES

To deliver the required foreign language knowledge, we integrate traditional teaching methods with more modern ones, such as project and group work, simulation of authentic business situations, elements of e-learning, multimedia and the virtual Moodle classroom. In this classroom, students have access to different grammar exercises, quizzes, vocabulary exercises, topics for discussion and case studies, Impletum textbooks, numerous links to useful web pages and online exercises as well as a student-teacher forum for information and exchanging opinions. The students also help build up a glossary of business terms which is accessible to everyone. Students can submit their written tasks and papers. The teacher marks their assignments and provides feedback.  

 

2.1   BLENDED LEARNING

For a successful implementation of lectures and seminars, a variety of teaching methods is recommended (Graham, 2003):

- Learning modalities

- Learning methods

- Different types of e-learning and traditional learning (F2F - Face to face).

 

Graham and Bonk (2006, 5) introduced the term blended learning and describe its historical emergence as the convergence between traditional face-to-face learning environments and computer-mediated (or distributed) learning environments.

 

“Blended learning” designates the range of possibilities presented by combining the Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical copresence of teacher and students (Friesen, 2012).

 

The term blended learning is relatively new in higher education. The most common definition is that blended learning environments combine face-to-face instruction with technology-mediated instruction (Graham, 2006; Graham et al., 2003). Traditional face-to-face instruction involves interactions between instructors and learners who are in the same location, whereas technology-mediated instruction uses information and communication technologies (ICT) to mediate the learning experience and interactions without requiring that learners and instructors be in a classroom at the same time.

 

Research suggests three primary reasons for adopting a blended approach to instruction: (1) improved learning effectiveness, (2) increased access and convenience, and (3) greater cost effectiveness (Graham, 2006).

 

2.2   DEBATE

Debate is a relatively new teaching method in our classes.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary states it as a discussion between people in which they express different opinions about something. In other words, a debate is an argument with rules.

We live in a world where we communicate all the time. Debating is a more formal type of communication. It builds confidence and self-esteem in people. If we can speak publicly and convey our ideas and thoughts coherently and passionately, we have a valuable tool that can aid us in our public and private lives. 

How do students benefit from a debate? Firstly, by participating in a debate team, they learn the art of persuasion. According to research, participation in debates increases students' academic performance and by preparing for debates they also hone their research skills. They get the experience of speaking in public.

Through a debate, the students upgrade their language skills and improve their reading and listening skills. They are willing to repeatedly refine and balance their opinions and develop them into well-constructed arguments supported with examples. A very important fact is that they can reflect on the knowledge gained.

There are three different methods of work: data collection, data analysis and presentation of results. Preparation for the debate requires more than just one lesson and it requires   independent study.    

An important advantage of the debate is its interactivity and dynamics, as all lesson participants are integrated. There is no classical division of classroom work between those who speak and those who listen. Also, the impact of competitiveness, which enhances motivation of the participants, should be considered – which arguments/presentations were more convincing and/or better.

Written preparation is a mandatory part of the oral presentation. In it, the student presents a sensible selection of sources from which he/she draws materials for his/her points of view.  In this way he/she learns that there is no convincing speaking without thinking, making notes and learning.  

 

3   INTERDISCIPLINARY TEACHING

The main objective of interdisciplinary teaching is the integration of knowledge from different subject areas and more in-depth understanding of issues.

It is student-oriented, promotes their active role, empowers attaining of taxonomically higher learning objectives, particularly critical thinking; considers and promotes a multi-perspective problem-solving approach.

The debate requires interdisciplinary teaching. Using the debate as an active method in the classroom, we can achieve important goals (Skrt, 2004; Snider, 2004; Vesel, 2003).

-          Deepening and broadening of knowledge. The students investigate the issues associated with the debating argument more deeply and actively, and integrate their knowledge from different subjects. 

-          Promoting critical thinking – the students develop critical thinking in the structuring of their own arguments and rebutting the arguments of their counterpart. They seek support for their arguments, e.g. the results of scientific research, statistics, and different documents.

-          Developing of information literacy. By searching for and gathering of different online sources, analysing and interpreting the data and information collected, the students learn to assess their value and importance. 

-          Developing of communication skills. The students learn to clearly express and represent their position. They learn to communicate effectively within the team, with the opposite team and the listeners. If they want to refute their arguments successfully, they have to actively listen to their interlocutors.  

 

3.1   DEBATE IMPLEMENTATION

In the academic year 2014/15, our college started a two-year project for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. We organized a series of different activities (lectures, workshops, thematic lessons, etc.).

Lecturers in the subjects Economy, Business Foreign Language (English) and the Basics of Business Finance decided for interdisciplinary teaching in the form of a pro & contra debate. We formed three discussion statements on the importance of health for social welfare.

We introduced the students to the format of the debate as a work method, the issues which will be examined and conducted a discussion in the context of a lesson.

The students were instructed to find and read as many professional articles related to global economy and a healthy lifestyle as possible. They had to find and review materials in Slovenian and in a foreign language, and start preparing for the execution of the debate.

It was our objective that the students learn to project their knowledge of English and the knowledge gained in economic subjects into the field of ​​health and general social prosperity, expand their knowledge and gain additional competences. The students were also supposed to get used to collaboration and teamwork. 

The lecturers formed the following debate statements:

- Concern for the health of employees is the responsibility of the company.

- Multinationals determine the way of our nutrition.

- Economic development is a prerequisite for social prosperity.

 

The next step for the students was to analyse different articles, make notes, put down the pros and cons of technological development and progress in general. Arguments were submitted to the e-classroom. The students selected their debate statement and their team by way of a draw. Each team examined all arguments gathered and developed their debate strategy.

The debate was conducted after an approximately three-month preparation. While one team was debating, the rest of the students were closely following the argumentations and put down notes and their own arguments for or against a statement.  

Twenty-four (24) first year students in the programme Economist participated in the debate. They were assessed by a four-member panel consisting of lecturers from various subject areas. The panel assessed the students’ presentation of arguments (clearly supported, well researched, addressing of the opposing team, maintaining eye contact); their rebuttals (arguments of the opposing team responded to clearly and effectively); and concluding statements (effective and convincing, overall effort and contribution were effective), and declared the winning team.

 

3.2   EVALUATON RESULTS

At the end of the debate, the results were measured by means of a questionnaire. The questionnaire, which was actually a guided self-reflection, was responded to by eighteen (18) students. They confirmed that by preparing for the debate and its execution they learned more than they would in traditional lectures. All students were of the opinion that cooperation within the teams was very good. They felt great, because each of them had the opportunity to contribute his/her opinion. They noted that it was easier to argue for a statement they believed in, as opposed to a statement which was against their principles.

 

4   CONCLUSION

Debate evaluation as well as the students’ knowledge demonstrated upon examination (one of the debate statements was also included in the final exam in two of the involved subjects), confirmed the significance and usefulness of interdisciplinary teaching in the form of a debate and will be an important guideline for quality work in the future.

 

 

REFERENCES

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Driscoll, W., Zompetti, J. 2005. Odkrijmo svet s pomočjo debate. Priročnik za izobraževalno debato. Ljubljana: ZIP.

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Friesen, N., Report: Defining Blended Learning [online]. Available:    http://learningspaces.org/papers/Defining_Blended_Learning_NF.pdf. [8. 8. 2016].

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Skrt, B. 2004. Kritično zagovorništvo za informacijsko dobo ali izobraževalna debata za nove kompetence informacijske družbe 21. stoletja. Vzgoja in izobraževanje, (6), 13–27.  

Snider, A. 2004. Debata kot aktivna metoda pri pouku. Predavanje na ZRSŠ. Ljubljana: ZRSŠ.

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