Debate across the disciplines: Structured classroom debates in interdisciplinary curricula

Brandon Merrell, Kevin J. Calderwood, Todd Graham


Snider and Schnurer (2002) argued that structured classroom debates (SCDs) facilitate numerous pedagogical benefits and can be easily adapted for use in a wide array of undergraduate courses. Nevertheless, university instructors incorporate SCDs into their classes less frequently than alternative active learning methods. This paper builds upon Snider and Schnurer’s work in two ways. First, we identify and discuss several potential challenges that may deter instructors from adopting SCDs. Drawing from our own experience incorporating SCDs across disciplinary lines, we address issues including: (1) selecting an appropriate SCD format for use in varying class types; (2) identifying appropriate topics from the subject matter in distinct disciplines; (3) developing clear and educational evaluation criteria for both individuals and groups; (4) incorporating audience participation into either debates or post-debate feedback; and (5) tailoring SCDs to facilitate the inclusion of students who might otherwise face barriers to participation. Second, we assess the unique benefits of incorporating SCDs into interdisciplinary university courses.

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