Social Socratic Method

In law school a favorite form of teachers questioning students is called the socratic method.  Wikipedia defines this as “a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.”  The actual form of questions is explored further on wikipedia in the post regarding socratic questioning.

The key point of terror I recall from my law school days is that a professor would focus in on one student for an extended period of time.  The strength of the socratic method, in forcing one student to be very clear with her ideas, is also its weakness.  In a large class, the rest of the students are listening, either actively or passively, to the exchange between the professor and the student under the microscope.  But they are listening, not engaging.

Engagement is the buzz word de jour in the social media world.  And I believe social media tools can be used to greatly increase the engagement of students in large classrooms.  Where the socratic method is a highly effective tool to figure out what one student thinks or knows about a particular topic, the social socratic method can be used to question an entire classroom at the same time.  This way, all students can engage with socratic questions posed by the professor and have their own critical thinking stimulated and their own ideas illuminated.

Both short-form and long-form questions can be proposed using the social socratic method.

Short-form questions can be posed as polls.  A key advantage of polls is that student answers can be tabulated and presented in class. For example:

Social Socratic Method







Long-form questions can be posed on blog posts, with answers posted as comments.  A key advantage of blogs is that students create and post their own free form answers.  Here’s how it would look:








Social media tools provide a new way of questioning students and listening to their responses.  The social socratic method ensures that all students in a classroom are directly engaged with the professor and not passively listening to a lecture or another student being questioned.  The next step would be for the professor to start facilitating conversations directly between students, allowing students to take on the role of the socratic questioner.  And beyond that professors can make use of tools like Google Forms to take student evaluation from a midterm and final to a more immediate evaluation on what students are learning week-to-week.

One final note: I believe the social socratic classroom can piggyback on all the thinking that has gone into the “Flipped” or “Reverse” classroom.  (One blog post on the topic of the Reverse Classroom, Google has links to many many more).  Also a nice image from Knewton on the flipped classroom.

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