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Unintended consequences of democracy in the classroom: A case of too many witches

Anna Hicks and Owen Hicks
The University of Western Australia
The key question to be addressed in this 'dilemma' session is: How do you give students choice in their learning but maintain feasible teaching parameters?

In a First Year History unit, students are offered a choice of three special modules for their tutorial groups. The module topics offered each year are a reflection of the interest and expertise of the staff teaching the course. This dilemma sees eight groups in total. Students sign up for a tutorial group at the beginning of the course according to the convenience of the tutorial times to them. Subsequently, in each tutorial group the students were given the opportunity to vote for the topic their group would focus upon. Topics were allocated according to the preference of the majority of students in the group. Groups that had selected the same topic were required to get together and arrange to give a presentation on that topic to the whole class at the end of the module (after three weeks). One of the modules ('Holy Ladies: the enclosure of anchoresses as an extreme form of religious expression') was discontinued because none of the groups voted to have it as their topic. Seven of the eight groups voted for the same topic (on witchcraft in the middle ages). This saw a potential arrangement of seven groups getting together (approximately 85 students) to give one presentation and one group (approximately 10 students) arranging a second presentation (which happened to be on depictions of the Middle Ages in film).

In previous years students voted individually and were allocated to tutorial groups according to their choice. Finding times convenient to all students interested a particular topic proved very difficult. Many students didn't get their first choice of topic due to timetabling difficulties. Typically three topics ran with approximately 25 students (3 groups) addressing each topic.

Authors: Anna Hicks, Associate Lecturer, Department of History, The University of Western Australia
Owen Hicks, Director, Organisational and Staff Development Services, The University of Western Australia

Presentation format: Dilemmas in teaching or teaching/learning research

Please cite as: Hicks, A. and Hicks, O. (2002). Unintended consequences of democracy in the classroom: A case of too many witches. In Focusing on the Student. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 5-6 February 2002. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2002/abstracts/hicks-abs.html

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Created 4 Dec 2001. Last revision: 1 Feb 2002. HTML: Roger Atkinson [ rjatkinson@bigpond.com ]