Panel Discussion

For a recent graduate class meeting in Research Methods in Composition Studies, students read five articles in which Composition scholars (Linda Brodkey, Beverly Moss, Lucy Calkins, Thomas Newkirk, and Janice Lauer's and William Asher) wrote about the advantages and pitfalls of ethnography and other qualitative studies. One of the main class writing projects is to design a research project, framing it theoretically. Therefore, what these scholars were writing about qualitative research was important for these students to grapple with. How could we do this in a way that would get the graduate students to fully consider these different views of ethnography? How could we get these views almost literally "out on the table"?

When we began class, five folded place cards were made up with each of the five scholars' names. The place cards were handed out at random, so each of the five grad students got the name of the ethnography scholar she would "be" for a panel discussion. Each student would be a "panelist," and participate in the panel as if she were Linda Brodkey, Beverly Moss, etc. The instructor would be the moderator and pose the questions.

On the other side of the place card, each student wrote her own name. That way, during the panel discussion, if the grad student herself had a question or comment, she could turn the place card around, display her own name, and comment or ask the question. So each person was essentially playing two roles: that of herself and that of the particular expert whose work we had read that week.

Students had about fifteen minutes to refresh their memory of the particular article and were given sample questions: What is good research? What is good ethnography? What are some advantages and pitfalls in this kind of research? etc. The "panelists" were encouraged to respond to each other, argue with each other, etc.

Students spoke as the panelists, but they were also very liberal about turning their place cards around and speaking as themselves. The instructor (as moderator) also called on specific panelists by saying, "Professor Brodkey, you have written about epistemological issues. Can you comment?"

This was lively and fun, and it lasted about an hour. There could have been more interchange among the panelists as well as more familiarity on the students' part with each expert's views and how it intersected with or conflicted with those of the other panelists. But overall this panel discussion seemed to get the different scholars' views out on the table for debate. In addition, the graduate students' voices were a proportionately larger part of class discussion than they would have been in a more conventional class discussion, and they had to "take on" the divergent viewpoints in a way they had not done before.

This discussion among "expert panelists" is an oral, interactive class activity that could be adapted for many English classes, graduate or undergraduate, writing-intensive or not.

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