THE "ON-CAMPUS DRILLING" CONTROVERSY: USING PENNSYLVANIA'S INDIGENOUS MINERAL RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT AS A TOPIC FOR IN-CLASS DEBATE
After selecting the debate topic, students identify and learn about ~10 public stakeholders, government agencies and specialty groups that inform the discussion. The instructor assigns students to a player, managing students into workable teams of five. Each student writes two valuable papers – one on the shale-gas drilling controversy, and another on the role and position of their player. The debate is held during finals over a two-hour period in a room where students, divided into their teams, are seated in a circle. To prevent potential rancor and chaos, students impose the rules of engagement. Foremost, regardless of personal opinion, team members must stay in-role, acting on behalf of their player, and be respectful of all. Each team introduces their player, states their position and makes their case. A moderator acts as University President, the one to be persuaded, and may pick a student who has a question for a particular team, allow rebuttals, guide discussion, or ask or re-direct follow-up questions. To conclude, teams offer summary statements and individuals give personal opinions. With student eyes opened, debate focus becomes addressing the challenge of compromise and resolution.
This debate is an effective learning exercise because it addresses a messy, real-world, local issue, one with alternative viewpoints and ethical complexities. Students choose the topic, rules and format and must state, defend and critique stances and interact. They are vested in the activity. The debate can act as a guide for how to conduct discussions ranging from campus- to state-level and is a forum for students to comprehend the many facets of this controversial issue and to make informed decisions.