One of the biggest challenges in higher education is getting students to actively participate during class time, especially in larger groups. The traditional lecture format simply does not lend itself well for this. Luckily, there are plenty of other teaching techniques that not only motivate students to participate actively during class, but also ensure that the quality of participation increases. As a former quiet student myself, I find it important that class participation does not simply involve giving the loudest students a platform to comment on the course material. Instead, it should give all students the tools to find their voice and use it during class.
For that reason, I love doing fishbowl discussions during my classes. A fishbowl is a different way of organizing a debate. Students are divided into two concentric circles: a small group of students takes place in an inner circle, while the remainder of the class forms an outer circle around them. The students in the inner circle – within the fishbowl, if you will – take part in the discussion. The students in the outer circle observe the discussion and take note of what happens. After a few minutes, the course instructor halts the discussion in the inner circle and asks the observing students to reflect on what happened. This way, even students who are not speaking are involved in the discussion. Several variations of the fishbowl discussion also exist.
Having used fishbowl discussion for various purposes in my courses over the years, I recently decided to do one in my Research Methods course. This course is part of the flipped classroom that I have written about here. With the lecture part of the course taking place online, it is even more important that class time is being spent in an active manner. For this reason, I decided to combine a fishbowl discussion with a mock interview for the workshop on qualitative interviewing.
This is how it worked: before coming to class, all students had to prepare a list of interview questions on a given topic. The type of respondent was also given. So in one workshop, students were to interview a fictional senior bureaucrat on government budget cutbacks, while in another workshop the mock interview was held with a fictional citizen on tax evasion. During the workshop, two volunteers played out the interview inside “the fishbowl”. The other students observed. To structure their observations, I had made bingo cards with a number of good and bad interviewing practices, using this website . Each time the students observed something from their bingo cards, they crossed off that box – until somebody had bingo of course!
At that point, we would halt the mock interview and have the student calling bingo comment on the observations he/she made and what had been missing from the interview. After a brief discussion, we would continue the interview with a new interviewer and interviewee. With the first round covering the beginning of the interview to approximately the half-way point and the second round picking up where we had left off until the end of the conversation, we were able to cover a full interview from start to finish.
Having taught this exercise a number of times now, I have found that it has consistently led to interesting observations and discussions, especially when students disagree on what they had observed!* It has also served the original purpose of the fishbowl exercise by allowing those students, who feel uncomfortable being at the center of attention in the classroom, to actively participate in the mock interview. For this reason, interview bingo has become a standard feature of my interviewing workshop. If you would like to try interview bingo for yourself, feel free to use this link to download the bingo cards (simply click on the bingo card shown to download a pdf-file).
*It should be added that the stakes are high: in the Netherlands, it is customary for the person who erroneously calls bingo to sing a song of choice as penalty 😊.