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Manchester Armchair Philosophers Message Board › More focused discussions?

More focused discussions?

Chris B.
user 62988092
Chorlton Cum Hardy, GB
Post #: 1
I very much enjoy Armchair Philosophers but confess to being a little frustrated sometimes by some of our discussions because I believe they could be more rewarding than they are. So I would like to propose some small changes of format for us to consider. This is not a series of moans about people who have contributed to our meet-ups, especially the admirable Mary who had the vision and energy to set them up. Nor are they negative criticisms of our organisation to date. Please see them as an attempt to help MAP grow and develop into something even more rewarding. I’ve numbered them below for ease of reference.

1] Let’s narrow the topics under discussion. Some subjects become so wide, they branch into too many areas to cover in the time and everyone seems to be talking about different things. I think we need more depth and less breadth.

2] Prepare more effectively for each meet-up with the topic presenter framing it adequately and finishing their presentation by posing a couple of pertinent questions for group discussions.

3] Rather than one presenter, sometimes have two who start to debate the topic in front of everyone else and help to clarify potential points of agreement and disagreement.

4] Make groups smaller, say three people. This allows for more listening, clarification, constructive interaction and engagement in considered debate with proper responses to what others have said, thereby reducing the tendency for people to just state their own view. Smaller groups also allow people to give reasons why they hold a particular viewpoint and create 'space' for mutual exploration, extension and challenge of beliefs.

5] Rather than have one poor sap trying to summarise group discussions in the plenary session, allocate 5-10 minutes for the whole group to prepare a presentable summary ... but of only one of the main points of their discussion! This should encourage more focused reporting and cut down on repetition.

6] Before the final follow-up remarks that people make individually, allocate 5 minutes for us to collect our thoughts and perhaps encourage people to make a few notes. This would make our contributions more concise, better structured, less like rambling streams of consciousness and more respectful of listeners. Philosophy is about thinking so let’s give ourselves time to think. The plenary format could vary so that we sometimes don’t express our own view but mention someone else’s that we found interesting, convincing, unsettling, etc.

Perhaps the next topic should be “List the features of an interesting and rewarding philosophical discussion”!
Mary R C.
MaryRCrumpton
Group Organizer
Manchester, GB
Post #: 2
Thanks for this Chris.

I welcome comments from everyone to the points that you have raised.

Mary x
Mary R C.
MaryRCrumpton
Group Organizer
Manchester, GB
Post #: 3
I waited to see what others might say, but in the absence of any other comments thus far, here are my thoughts on the suggestions you have made Chris:

1] Let’s narrow the topics under discussion. Some subjects become so wide, they branch into too many areas to cover in the time and everyone seems to be talking about different things. I think we need more depth and less breadth.
I agree with this in general Chris, though I have enjoyed some of the broader topics too. I guess it is worth saying that I choose the topic from suggestions made to me by members of the group, so I encourage people to give me topic suggestions that are narrower if they agree with this first point. The group will get what it asks for :-)

2] Prepare more effectively for each meet-up with the topic presenter framing it adequately and finishing their presentation by posing a couple of pertinent questions for group discussions.
Perhaps it would be helpful to consider what "adequately" means in this context. Maybe you would like to write a "guide for topic presenters" or something. Though any such document needs to be brief - I don't want to discourage people from offering to introduce a subject - very few have volunteered so far - it tends to be that I ask those who have suggested a topic if they would be willing to introduce it. And I am trying to let the people doing so decide for themselves how best they go about this, so as not to put people off volunteering.

3] Rather than one presenter, sometimes have two who start to debate the topic in front of everyone else and help to clarify potential points of agreement and disagreement.


Yes, I liked this idea when you first suggested it a few months ago to a group of us. If 2 people would like to volunteer to do this for a topic then I would be happy to see this. I wonder, Chris, if you might like to find a "partner" and pick a topic for the two of you to introduce this way?

4] Make groups smaller, say three people. This allows for more listening, clarification, constructive interaction and engagement in considered debate with proper responses to what others have said, thereby reducing the tendency for people to just state their own view. Smaller groups also allow people to give reasons why they hold a particular viewpoint and create 'space' for mutual exploration, extension and challenge of beliefs.
The groups were definitely too large in the most recent meet-up, partly because we had quite a few late-comers so groups of 3-4 ended up as groups of 6. I think 3 - 4 is an ideal number. I think I have tended to suggest 4 if we have a large group, simply so that the reporting back of the groups doesn't take too long. I have preferred being in groups of 3 - 4 myself.

5] Rather than have one poor sap trying to summarise group discussions in the plenary session, allocate 5-10 minutes for the whole group to prepare a presentable summary ... but of only one of the main points of their discussion! This should encourage more focused reporting and cut down on repetition.


Yes, talking about one main point would be good.

Do you mean the group spends 5-10 mins preparing that, or that they report back for that length of time? If the latter, we would have to keep it to 5 minutes I think. Having said that, if we get 30 people, and we only have 3 per group, then that is 10 groups to report back, which would lead to 50 minutes reporting back - over long I think.

Thus far I have had the idea in my head that 6 groups, reporting back for 3- 5 mins each, means that a maximum of 20-30 mins is spent in that group reporting back phase.. So if we get 20 people turn up, split into 6 groups, that's 3-4 people per group, but if 30 people turn up, split into 6 groups, that's 5 people per group. Interested to know what others think.

To avoid the existence of the "poor sap", perhaps we should allow each group to decide how they want to report back, but encourage one main point, and maximum 5 minutes? It would be nice if the group agreed collectively what was going to be said, rather than leaving it to one person to decide.

6] Before the final follow-up remarks that people make individually, allocate 5 minutes for us to collect our thoughts and perhaps encourage people to make a few notes. This would make our contributions more concise, better structured, less like rambling streams of consciousness and more respectful of listeners. Philosophy is about thinking so let’s give ourselves time to think. The plenary format could vary so that we sometimes don’t express our own view but mention someone else’s that we found interesting, convincing, unsettling, etc.
Yes, mentioning someone else's view can be nice. I have tried to phrase it as "final comments" to allow people to do just that, if they wish.

As for the 5 minute "thought collection" break, yes, that sounds a nice idea. Though I am wary of encouraging people to make notes - I would feel that the teacher in me was rearing its ugly head if I did that! But a thought/bar/loo break at that point seems reasonable to me.
Again, I will be interested in what others have to say.

Perhaps the next topic should be “List the features of an interesting and rewarding philosophical discussion”! Great idea for a topic - I will add it to the list! :-)

And thanks again for your thoughts Chris.

Mary.
Chris B.
user 62988092
Chorlton Cum Hardy, GB
Post #: 2
To clarify point 5 about summarising group discussions in the plenary session, I think it would be useful for the chair/MC (ie probably Mary) to announce a 5 minute period at the end of group discussion for each group to prepare a 2-3 minute report of their main focus of discussion. So 8 groups should take about 20-25 minutes.

Does anyone else have a view on this?

Chris
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