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Anyone want to talk about experiences of seminar teaching?

(11 Posts)
squirrelsarescary Fri 03-Feb-17 11:11:39

Anyone want to share experiences, thoughts and ideas with me? I am that point in the term where seminars feel increasingly painful. Most of my students do not do the reading. Their recall from lectures is quite poor (assuming they attend lectures). I try to inject energy into the sessions but am often met with blank stares, and lots of 'I don't knows.' Often I find myself at the front of the room wondering what on earth the students actually want from it. I'm in social sciences, and at a mid-ranking university, with OK-ish but not the highest entry standards (and many students do not have English as a first language). Anyone deal with similar and if so, what do you do?

Parietal Fri 03-Feb-17 11:28:53

if they won't talk, I ask a question and tell them all to write down the answer on paper. they I call on some (or all) in turn to read out their answer. That gets over the inhibition about speaking up and the 'english isn't my first language'

for small seminars (6 or so), I would also put a question on the white board. Then I make one student the 'scribe' whose job is to write on the white board, and the others have to tell her what to write. I stay at the back and once they get going, they can have plenty to say.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Fri 03-Feb-17 11:29:43

I'll come back to this later. I have had this exact experience and sought the advice of a more experienced colleague, and changed the way I did seminars.

squirrelsarescary Fri 03-Feb-17 11:39:17

Thanks both. I do call on students to speak, and ask them very specific questions, giving them ten minutes or so to return to the reading and note down their answers. But often they haven't done the reading so are really making it up. We have about 20 students in all our seminars. I guess this sounds a bit optimistic, but I really want to enthuse them with the ideas, but sometimes feel that perhaps that's not why they are here.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 04-Feb-17 00:06:07

It's too late to start with this group, but this last year I've been using a technique passed on by a colleague, and it's brilliant. You warn them you plan to begin each seminar with discussion, and you begin each seminar by saying 'now, you will have a discussion of the reading for 10 minutes and I will not participate'. And you sit in silence waiting for them to begin.

I was really surprised to find they actually do it, and it does make all subsequent discussion much easier and less full of awkward pauses.

I have to admit, though, my weakest couple of students were (predictably) pretty annoying and you do have to reckon on losing a few minutes to 'yeah, I liked that bit, like, and ...' kind of wittering. But overall it helps them to realise they are required to participate and it's better than calling on them with specific questions.

I'd probably also split a seminar of 20 into smaller groups sometimes and move around chatting to them as they discussed things, then get a group leader from each group to feed back.

Sometimes group dynamics are just painful though, aren't they?

iveburntthetoast Sat 04-Feb-17 09:59:07

We do group work--assign each group a discussion question and get them to produce a wiki or a short presentation. Include short pieces of reading that they can look at

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Sat 04-Feb-17 11:14:50

I used to have painful seminars, I couldn't understand why these supposedly keen students all sat there in silence. We used to have 5 min presentations of the paper at the start, except they were all sick on their week/hadn't really understood it/gave such a dull presentation, that any discussion fell flat.

I abandoned those, and now do something to get them all talking immediately (similar to LRD I guess). It is pretty structured, though, so I assign two papers per class and give them a written set of questions on the papers (which have to be pre-read), so they are asked, what is the main point of the paper, about certain findings, then a couple of wider questions which feed into the type of things they would get in exams (e.g. what's the significance of X in society, how could be encourage Y?) I tell them I don't want everyone sitting behind computers (as quite a lot have this on their independent learning plans so tend to hide behind them) and the point is to discuss the questions verbally together as a group. Then after 20-30 min of that discussion, we move to the whole group and find out what each group thought for each question.

I also say at the start of the year, if you've spoken, can someone else speak next time (for the whole group feedback) so everyone gets a turn, this works well, although can be difficult if you have one person who simply won't speak, I've had this once or twice.

I try to make the questions interesting, relevant to current debates and to show them how the literature fits into these. There's usually a lot of participation, and my seminars have been complemented on by students in the student committee as an exemplar of how to run them (boastful but true!) I think I just had to accept at some point that the type of students I have are not up for an hour of spontaneous discussion, and they need their group talking skills scaffolding a bit. They are not the highest achievers mostly, and the more structured approach works well with them.

munchkinmable Sat 04-Feb-17 21:52:06

Are we on the same dept!?

I try to use lots of tasks that are short, don't rely on reading because they don't tend to do it (no one seems to enforce it so by the time they get to me as third years they are astounded when I've asked them to actually read hmm ) and I usually out them into small groups which I go round and facilitate. Asking each group to present back to the main group means they actually do the work.

Learning students' names is the key though. That way you can call them out but they also think you're genuinely interested in them which helps

worstofbothworlds Mon 06-Feb-17 10:28:37

I have very brief interaction with my seminar students because most of our modules are team taught but I can usually get them to at least do something other than sit in silence by doing one of the following:

Debate - they have to read two opposing papers, they are told there will be a debate. They get in two or four groups (depending on attendance) and discuss their viewpoint, and of the groups one must be the proposer/one the opposer (then two replies if four groups). They have to nominate at least one speaker for their part of the debate, which is after about 20 mins discussion.

Fantasy study design (I'm in STEM): Design a study to investigate X, you have as much money and time as you wish. Again, 20 mins discussion with me hovering around making sure they are sticking to the point/time and then present to the class on the whiteboard (recently we've kind of gone over to PPT on a USB stick owing to an unfortunate lack of pens in one room).

Examples relating to a definition: read X before the class and bring it, here's your technical definition, examples in groups relating to this and then feed back (but not stand up and present).

Write a 100-200 word public-facing article on the topic.

What analyses would you use for this dataset? Show me how to do it (about 3-4 per computer is OK for this one).

worstofbothworlds Mon 06-Feb-17 10:29:07

(I never know their names though - because of the team teaching thing)

squirrelsarescary Wed 08-Feb-17 12:00:21

Hi All, Thanks so much for these comments. I already do some of this, but there's some great ideas here. I'm going to try a few out in the next couple of weeks!

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