At a Glance


  • STEM
  • Engineering

Instructional Level

  • University

Tasks in Workflow

Social Plane(s)

  • Group
  • Whole Class

Type of Tasks

  • Discussing
  • Debating
  • Writing

Technical Details

Class size

  • Large (100-250)


  • Single class period (< 90 mins)

Instructional Purpose

  • Application & knowledge building


The aim of this activity is to have students critically assess and understand that there are positive and negative aspects of complex ethical engineering issues.

Students write a three-page document explaining the supporting and opposing view points of the debate question and submit the assignment the night before to the course website. The students then divide themselves into two groups of two (the supporting and those opposed).

In class, students perform the debate in the following sequence: Introduction of arguments (4 minutes for each side); rebuttals (3 minutes for each side); 2 minute recess for both sides to discuss concluding remarks; concluding remarks (two minutes each).

Following the debate, students from the audience are encouraged to participate by asking debaters questions, opposing their viewpoints or generally discussing the topic once the debate is complete.

This activity was used for a class of 200 students.

Examples for the debate topics are as follows: Genetically Modified Organisms, Artificial Intelligence, The Canadian oil sands, The Internet of Things,

Instructional Objectives

To develop debating and public speaking skills. To evaluate and critically respond to a complex, open-ended questions.

Workflow & Materials

Contributor's Notes

Lawrence R. Chen

Lawrence R. Chen

McGill University, Montreal


A debate is an interesting alternative to written paper because in addition to knowing the content, the students also have to present their arguments and hear from others. This debate goes beyond the technical parts of engineering and looks at the impacts of engineering in the real world (society). The topics that can be covered in this debate are vast. The debate is structured so that it gives everybody a chance to speak and also for others to listen to all of the points of view. The debate helps students do critical analysis.


The way the course was set up only 16 (four groups of four) students participate out of a class of 200 actually participate in the debate; some audience members will ask questions but how do you engage everyone? In a large class, some students continue talking through the debates, which can be hard on the students who are nervous about public speaking.


The students who do not participate in the debate could write a paper on the debate. Not everyone in the debate has to speak, some can just help construct arguments- some prefer to avoid public speaking. The debates could also be done in a tutorial where the class size is much smaller.

Applied Strategies


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