10 April 2013

Discussion role call!

I spent prolific amounts of time as a student participating in competitive speech and debate. One of the categories of high school speech in Indiana was Discussion. This aptly named group placed students in a room together where they were expected to talk about a pre-assigned issue. Such a set-up, however, begs the question: how do you rank participants, given it is a competitive event? Even more fundamentally: what makes someone better than another at talking about stuff?

Such was my first introduction to the importance of the variety of roles in a group discussion setting. Here's a description of different types of discussion roles from a non-profit group; I selected this particular link over myriad others because of the breakdown into "task" and "maintenance" roles. These same principles are applied in many contexts, including education. Often, teaching resources recommend students are assigned a single role for a class period or task. In the afore mentioned competitive sense, a successful participant was one who effectively filled multiple roles during the course of the conversation.

This digression to memories from high school is brought to you by reflections on the catalysis meeting in which I participated a few weeks back. As previously discussed, catalysis meetings present interesting dynamics. Scientists at different career stages are better suited to some types of discussion roles. Everyone can make contributions, albeit in different ways. In a broader sense, I find myself tallying my own (and others') fulfillment of these roles in other settings, such as during journal club (we meet once a week here at NESCent to talk about a recently published scientific article). My observations are based partly in a desire to study communication, but mostly in an effort to enrich my interactions with professional colleagues and expand my thinking.

It's gratifying the multitude of time I spent competing in speech and debate continue to reap benefits.

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