Speed dating originated in 1998 as an efficient way for prospective romantic partners to meet each other (Deyo & Deyo, 2003); however, the method was co-opted by the educational world and adapted for the classroom in 2005 (Muurlink & Matas, 2011). In an educational setting, speed dating consists of a series of brief one-on-one interactions between students (Murphy, 2005; Muurlink & Matas, 2011).
At the start of a speed dating session, students are given a topic or question to discuss. Each student sits facing another student. The physical set-up of the session may vary depending on the characteristics of the classroom, but long boardroom-style tables with chairs on each side (Muurlink & Matas, 2011) or portable chairs arranged in an inner and outer circle (Lashbrook, 2010) generally work well. Students typically remain in their partner-groups for about 3-5 minutes before the instructor, who must keep time, notifies them to move on to their next partner. Once students rotate to their new partners, the timer is reset and students again discuss their topic or question, this time with a new discussion partner. The session proceeds in this manner, with each student thus getting the opportunity to interact with multiple other students in a series of brief one-on-one discussions (Murphy, 2005). The theoretical underpinnings of this method can be traced to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, whereby each student can do more with the help of someone else than he can do on his own (Vygotsky, 1978), and Freire’s concept of dialogic learning, as the structured format of the session emphasizes the exchange of valid information and deemphasizes power differentials between students (Freire, 1970).
Depending on the goals of the session, the instructor may prepare just a few broad questions for students to discuss (Murphy, 2005). Alternatively, some instructors assign students to Questioner/Answerer roles and prepare answer sheets containing correct information for the Questioners to refer to (Lashbrook, 2010). Rather than preparing the answer sheets themselves, instructors can assign their preparation as a homework or in-class activity, as creating the answer sheets serves as another opportunity for students to learn the material (Danczak, 2012). Another pre-session preparatory activity is to provide students with time to write on the topic to organize their ideas before they begin to converse with their peers (Murphy, 2005).
During each “date”, students may be allowed to simply talk freely about a topic (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013). Many instructors use speed dating activities early in the semester as a kind of ice-breaker wherein students can get to know each other while discussing content related to the course (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013; Steggeman, & Glaser, 2009). In social psychology, the speed dating protocol may be taken more literally with students actually going on brief “dates” with each other to learn about theories of self-presentation and impression management or group dynamics (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013; Muurlink & Matas, 2011). Speed dating is a particularly popular method in the medical sciences; the format is thought to be good training for students’ eventual interactions with real patients who have questions about their conditions (Danczak, 2012; Lashbrook, 2010; Muurlink & Matas, 2011). Although speed dating typically brings students together to interact with their peers, a modification of the original protocol calls for students to analyze books or primary source documents on brief “dates” (Carpinelli, 2012). In other variations, students may be required to take a stand on a topic, or they may be asked to incorporate points made by other students into their position as the session goes along (Murphy, 2005).
At the end of the speed dating session itself, students may be asked to write, either to reflect on the social dynamics of the session or to consolidate their content knowledge (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013; Murphy, 2005). Rather than have students write a formal essay, some instructors ask them to write field notes immediately following the session (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013). Alternatively, the instructor could hold a whole-class discussion to debrief the event (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013).
Speed dating sessions are a form of active learning, which is associated with higher levels of student engagement and retention (Larson & Tsitsos, 2013). Because students need only talk to one other student at a time, instructors note that this activity allows introverted students to participate without fear of being observed by the whole group (Murphy, 2005; Muurlink & Matas, 2011). Conversely, speed dating sessions prevent dominant students from monopolizing class discussion time (Murphy, 2005). Because each conversation is quick, speed dating provides a way to cover a lot of information (potentially about disparate topics) in a relatively short period of time (Lashbrook, 2010).
By participating in speed dating sessions, students gain practice thinking under time pressure. Due to the repetitive nature of the interactions, students may become expert in a particular content area by the end of the session (Lashbrook, 2010). Students benefit from hearing the responses of other students who may have different explanatory styles (Danczak, 2012) and they gain practice assessing their peers (Muurlink & Matas, 2011). Educators note that students seem to find the novelty of a speed dating session to be a fun and interactive way to learn material (Lashbrook, 2010; Murphy, 2005).
Written by Julia Hayden Galindo, Ed.D., Harvard Graduate School of Education
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