What If Group Work Led to Papers and a Panel?

Over on Facebook, where I get a lot of my education on pedagogy, one of my former students posted a very modest comment about, as she was rushing to throw together a conference paper at the last minute, frantic to come up with something, she realized the universe was whispering that she should have empathy for your students who are in that situation all the time.  There is always a paper due.  There is always too much to do.  There is always that precious last minute.

She asked all of us Facebook friends for advice and someone I don’t know came up with something so interesting that I wanted to pass it on.  This happened to be in a composition class but others chimed in that it could be adapted to other fields.   Also, I’m taking this further and so I’m giving credit but I’m also taking blame if this goes too far:


What if instead of bringing in drafts and sending folks off to groups to comment, each group were given the status of a conference panel and, instead of a midterm, the students would be presenting a short, say 15 minute, draft of their paper on the panel, to the class. Group work leading to the panel would concentrate both on individual papers and on finding a coherent theme and title for the panel, an approach, and so forth.  Maybe three people on a panel and, in addition to giving a paper, each member would have another “uber-role” too:  one would be the introducer or chair, summarizing the point of the panel and each students role or qualifications;  one would be the closing respondent to all the papers; and one would be the question asker for the “audience,” proposing maybe five salient questions for the panelists to talk through first, then opening it up to the floor.

In psychology or biology, these might be poster sessions; in literature written out papers; and many points in between.

IMPORTANT:  you would tell the students this is how the “pros” do it—often working out ideas in public, getting feedback on the way to a final product.

Structurally:  this offers a way where everyone speaks.

As work ethic:  it structures process in an honest way.  No shame in “writing the night before” because, well, it is not just students who do that but, for students, the consequences can be so dire–a terrible grade.  This builds “life circumstances” into a procedure.

As preparation for life:  this has challenges, limits, a public aspect, and a very nice balance of individual effort and group effort that takes the onus off the “manager” in the group to do it all.  Each person presents a paper, and each has a collective role for the success of the panel.

Structuring participation:   In a class, it is so easy to become lost or overwhelmed in group work.  This really works to balance opportunity and responsibility more evenly.

In public:  this is quite demanding, but it is also limited and everyone is in the hot seat for the same amount of time.  (Learning how to manage time in writing a paper and making sure your paper is wthin time–considerate of others–are also important skills).

Digital component:  it would be ideal to record these, even on a very simple device, so a students have a record of the feedback, the comments, and their own voice making the comments.

In terms of our own unit on “Life Circumstances and Pedagogical Ethics” (a title much admired over on Facebook, btw), this is demanding enough that it needs to be a major part of the course–maybe midterm leading to final.  Class time should be structured so they can do the panel presentation and there should be an online site where they can work on each other’s papers and give feedbacks outside of class–a Google Doc is fine.

I’ve never done this, never heard of it being done, but I think it is a remarkable strategy and I am guessing that all the components together will yield a far better piece of writing (and far less plagiarism–students will be looking for that for their fellow panelists) than normal and then the student has something really extraordinary for a portfolio for the future.

I’d love to try this sometime.  What are your thoughts?  (NB:  Thank you, Facebook.  I’ll give credit to the writers if they give me permission.)





  1. This really is a great idea! I’m going to keep it in mind for the fall when I teach a Freshman Comp I. I usually assign some presentation to weave undetected research methodology into our curriculum, but I often feel guilty that I’m putting my students in vulnerable position. The group panel could reduce so much anxiety and give them support while they embark on the paper. What to look for? What kind of research should I being doing? Who’s responsible for what? They could even share articles they find and toss or find and use, depending on the research question. It could relieve a lot stress. I’m working out a collaborative visual research assignment (something the CUNY Sociodemographics Map of NYC that Michael Dorsch recently published) for Honors Freshman Comp II students. I’m hoping they can present their research at the KCC Honors Symposium. With this opportunity they could see that their research is being shared and valued; serving a purpose for CUNY or their communities or science, etc.

    Thanks for sharing. This idea is definitely tasty food for thought.

  2. Fabulous. And even better if they think they are doing the panel not just to get feedback on the way to a final paper but on the way to a final presentation at the KCC Honors Symposium. Even if they don’t make it in the Symposium, you could put on a one day final symposium and invite students from other classes, let them invite others, and record it all (even with an iphone–doesn’t have to be fancy) and put it up on line. Great source of pride and community bonding and future career help. Such a great idea. It’s not mine—so I’m happy to spread it!

  3. I love this idea, and I am wondering if I can swap it in for something I already had planned that I wanted to cut out. I think I will use it as a research paper prep assignment. Thanks, Cathy! (And thanks, also, for the empathy reminder. It’s always welcomed.)

  4. Thank you for this idea! I too am thinking of how I can incorporate this into my future classes, and adapt it for my current one. I think that being explicit with students about the purpose and benefits of this kind of activity–both inside and outside the classroom–is particularly important. You will undoubtedly reach a lot of students in emphasizing the skills of organization, collaboration, public speaking, etc.
    Another addition to this activity might be for the students themselves, during the process and afterwards, to identify what they found valuable in going through this conference activity. It’s simple enough for me to assume what my students could/would/should get out of something like this, but it’s more important for me to hear from the students themselves, even just to avoid prescribing the potential outcomes of this activity too rigidly.

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