9 edition of What"s the point in discussion? found in the catalog.
Ms Sarah Cornelius
University of Aberdeen
Review published 17 November 2005
Diana Laurillard  has argued that one of the great untested assumptions of current educational practice is that students learn through discussion (Laurillard, 1993). Bligh’s book goes a long way to providing evidence that, at least in a face to face classroom setting, discussion is at least as effective as other methods of teaching. This is a book which draws on a wealth of research and personal experience to present the case that students do learn through discussion, and that as teachers we can do much to nurture and encourage the development of thinking skills, and the development of attitudes and values by using discussion and group work techniques.
The central idea of the book is that you should ‘start with simple tasks in small groups for short periods of time, and then gradually increase their respective complexity, size and duration’. Indeed this maxim is presented so many times that there is no escaping the message of the book. But other equally important ideas are there too, for example that students need to learn basic thinking and discussion skills, and that teachers need to continuously reflect on and extend their repertoire of techniques.
The book is written in an easy to read and engaging style, and the frequent use of the first person makes the reader feel that they are really learning from someone with a wealth of experience in this area. The material is structured and organised in such a fashion that the reader can get a feel for the argument from headings and subheadings, whilst more in depth reading will reveal the details of the research which provides supporting evidence. For readers without perfect memories it is suggested Section IV should be the starting point – this is where the ideas are applied and a developmental sequence of discussion methods is introduced. This section includes much thought-provoking and useful content; even for experienced users of techniques such as buzz groups, horseshoe groups, case discussion and different types of tutor led tutorials. Part IV of this book on its own would be useful for most practitioners. Earlier sections build up the case for the application of discussion methods, by reviewing studies of group discussion methods and comparing these with other types of teaching (Part I), by examining why thought and attitudes are developed with a sequence of tasks (Part II), and looking at factors influencing the discussion process (Part III). There are times where experienced teachers might find themselves saying ‘that’s obvious’, but it is reassuring to see that there is evidence to confirm practice.
The quality of the graphics in this book is disappointing. Whilst diagrams of group arrangements and the structure of certain types of activity are undoubtedly helpful, the presentation is somewhat old fashioned and a bit ‘fuzzy’, with some text that looks as if it has been produced on a typewriter. It is also clear that this book has been written with face-to-face situations in mind. With the increasing use of blended and online learning in higher education, perhaps a useful addition for a second edition would be a Part V to look at the application of the maxim in an e-learning environment.
Bligh ends with the comment that he will consider the book a success if teachers apply the maxim by increasing and diversifying their repertoire of discussion methods. From that viewpoint it is hard to see how the book will fail – practitioners will find something new in here to try out with their own learners. However, perhaps they will not all want to read the theoretical sections to get to these new ideas.
 Laurillard, D. (1993) Rethinking University Teaching: a conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. RoutledgeFalmer, London
|LC Classifications||LC6519 .B54 2000|
|The Physical Object|
|Pagination||viii, 312 p. :|
|Number of Pages||312|
|LC Control Number||00708874|
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