The fishbowl activity works well in large classes where it might not be possible for everyone to engage in the same task: the students in the fishbowl act as proxy learners for their peers.
The observing students learn not by doing the task but by reflecting on how the task is being done.
- The instructor asks for four or five volunteers from the class to step forward to perform a given task. The task might be a physical procedure such as preparing a specimen slide for a microscope, or an analytic activity such as debating the pros and cons of an issue.
- As the group of volunteers engage in the task (in a virtual “fishbowl”), the other students observe, taking notes or assessing their performance.
- The instructor can ask the observing students to focus on specific aspects – for example, if the students in the fishbowl are engaging in a debate, the instructor might ask the other students to jot down the assumptions that those students are tacitly making. Or, if the task is a physical procedure, the instructor might ask the observing students to identify ways that the task could be performed more effectively, or simply differently.
- After the students in the fishbowl have completed their task, the other students report on what they observed or what they learned from watching.
Instead of reporting on what they observed immediately after the fishbowl task has been completed, students could do so at a later time in an online discussion group.