I’m now watching the “debate” between Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney. Most of us academics bemoan the lack of a serious, detail-filled discussion of policy in these media events, but there’s something to be said for being able to quickly and clearly communicate an argument — it’s a skill that few U.S. politicians and even fewer U.S. college students have. I’ve been integrating more presentation-type activities in my courses, such as rocket pitch competitions; however, I still find students crumpling under pressure. I don’t particularly enjoy verbally crucifying students when they are behind the podium — I prefer doing it to fellow academics who deserve it because they should know better — but I couldn’t figure out how to get students to do the job for me. It hadn’t occurred to me that students needed examples of how to ask questions.
Today during an informal team presentation exercise — one of those “meet with your teammates for ten minutes and then each team reports to the whole class” processes — I had a flash of inspiration. I started talking about the tv show Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of potential investors, and members of the panel interrogate them. Now I’m going to have students watch a segment from the show so they can see how to ask pointed, challenging questions, and I’ll give them the opportunity to pose these questions to teams when they present.