Discussion practice

Subject: Cognitive Semiotics. Course: Cognition and Semiotics 1 and Cognition and Semiotics. Study level: Master's degree programme/Supplementary subject programme. Class size: 20-25.

Motivation for the activity

In lecture-based instruction, the absence of feedback from the students entails that you cannot know what they have understood or only partially understood. One way of tackling this is to create an environment where the students are always able to interrupt the lecturer, or rather: are obliged to do this if there is something they have not understood, something they will criticise, or something they will put into perspective.

Central learning outcomes for the course

Introduction to the fundamental theories of cognitive semiotics for students who do not have - either at bachelor or graduate level - any academic prerequisites within the area.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

The idea of the activity is that students rarely get anything out of just listening passively to what is communicated from the other side of the teacher's desk. It is about getting the students to mobilise their knowledge along three axes:

  1. with regard to what they do not know (comprehension)
  2. with regard to the connection to already acquired knowledge (perspective) and
  3. with regard to what they find to be wrong, imprecise or false (criticism).

Description of the activity

I use the first slide in the first lesson of my courses to impress upon them that they can and must ask, criticise and provide perspective. This helps turn the actual lecturing situation into a situation in which discussion is always possible.

  • After this you must, no matter what, always stop (on the spot, or at the very least at the next full stop) when someone raises their hand. The rule is precisely that they should interrupt you just as soon as they find necessary.
  • I try to remember to insert some slides here and there where the only content is "Question!", and then it is just a matter of waiting until a question is asked (sometimes a little embarrassing).
  • Finally (and this is maybe the most important point, at least in my experience) you must teach with your eyes open and facing the students. This is where you can detect the half-raised hands, a tentative or doubtful expression or a comment that was almost not said. These are sometimes the ones you particularly want to hear (and the ones that the others get something out of hearing).

All of this is of course easier said than done and, depending on the nature and temperament of different classes, not always so easy to implement. Some classes are just quieter and more passive than others. Conversely, four to five talkative students can easily monopolise the debate, much to the others’ irritation.

Outcome of the activity

The students are activated in an otherwise passive lecturing situation and, in this regard, this is particularly applicable to the students who have something that they have not understood.