Faculty Development & Learning Assessment

Value Line

--04/14/2011

Want an engaging active-learning strategy that is effective in small and large classes (if carefully structured) and useful in online settings as well?

A “value line” ascertains students’ opinions in a quick and visual way by asking them to line up according to how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement or proposition. It allows teachers to structure paired or four-person discussions on controversial topics with a range of viewpoints in each group.

Steps:

State the issue, perhaps giving arguments for or against the proposition. Ask students, after a moment of “think time,” to choose a number on a one-to-five scale that best describes their position on the issue. To save time, have the students jot down their number before the next step. Next, ask students who have chosen “one” to stand at a designated point along the wall of the room. The students who have chosen “two” follow them, and so forth until all students are lined up. Stretch the line sufficiently so that students don’t bunch together.

After the students have formed a line based on their opinions, identify the midpoint. The easiest way to do this is to ask students to ignore the original number they selected as the basis for their location in the line. Then, have them count off, calling out numbers from one end of the line-up to the other, giving each a unique identifying number. Find the median student by dividing the last number by two.

Pair students for a discussion by folding the line backwards, pairing the students at each end. For more in-depth discussions, you can form groups of four. Form the first group by taking one student from each end of the line and two from its midpoint. In a class of 40, for example, call the numbers 1, 40, 15, and 14. The next team would consist of students 2, 39, 16, 13, and so on.

Caveat:

This activity results in a very public display of opinion: Don’t use it if students will be uncomfortable or embarrassed. Establish clear ground rules for the discussion. Identifying workshop leaders, recorders, reporters and time-keepers can add structure. Carefully monitor the discussions by sitting in with groups.

Other Applications:

  • In an online setting, students can email their “one-to-five” number to you. You can then form discussion groups for a threaded discussion based on the student responses.

  • You can use a similar line-up to identify “study buddies” or to form review or coaching sessions with students lining up based upon their confidence in their content knowledge or skill abilities.
  • Examples from various disciplines:

    Instructors could ask students to respond to the following statements:
  • The United States was justified in dropping the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

  • Funds should be diverted from other medical research into AIDS programs.

  • Every woman is entitled to abortion on demand.

  • The United States should adopt a flat income tax rate.

  • The United States should begin an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq.
  • Adapted from: Barbara J. Millis, Director, The TEAM Center, University of Texas at San Antonio http://www.utsa.edu/directory/. Contributed by Tasha Souza.