Resources for Seminar Teaching


I administer a graduate program where all of the courses are offered in a one-week (four hours per day) seminar-style format.

Most of the faculty members we hire are used to teaching regular semester-long courses where they only have three classroom hours per week.

I'm seeking resources, especially books and online resources, I can make available for faculty members making a transition to this kind of format. Are there any folks who do this kind of teaching regularly and can offer advice? Thanks in advance.

I have taught several courses in the four-hour format.  Actually, I've come to prefer the longer amount of time with the students. For example, we can actually show relevant films and have time for discussion. We can do site visits. I also have students create hour-long group presentations based on readings from our books. We have book discussion circles within the class.

When you have a four-hour block of time, it is critical that you include short breaks. Most adults can only sit still for 20-30 minutes at a time. I build in stretch breaks or warm-ups (similar to those used in corporate training sessions) that have some tie-in to our topics that evening.

Keep in mind that I work in the social sciences and education fields. Those in other fields may have a different approach to the long class period. It does take a lot of work to plan for the four-hour class, but if you "overplan," you'll enjoy class a lot more!

I agree that the four-hour block has great advantages. Although breaks are important, the variety of instructional experience is equally important and actually supercedes the need for breaks.

I suggest frequent small group interaction and private processing activities. My rough guide is 10:2, or for every 10 minutes of "me-speak," have at least 2 minutes of "student-speak." My favorite method is to say, "Turn to the person next to you and share your thoughts on that question."

Another standard is, "Given what you just read, in groups of no more than three, share what you think the most important words are."

Of course there are many useful cooperative-learning techniques, such as saying, "On one sheet of paper, with two other people from different disciplines, design a method to solve this problem."

Because a four-hour session will actually have multiple lessons, or mini-sessions, I strongly recommend planning specific "closure" events for each transition to a new topic. These must include the deliberate mention of key words and a conscious connection of the key concepts to the activities just done so students are aware of their own learning activity.

Finally, the end of the four-hour session must include a bridge from the past to the future: "Today we focused on ... by doing ... ; this will help us tomorrow/after lunch when we focus on ... doing something different ... ."

It is always helpful to have a bullet-point agenda. It is always helpful to ask for specific feedback in anonymous form, i.e., "Today we simulated this process. How did that work for you? Is there anything I need to know that will help me to help you learn the course goals?"

The greatest challenge to the format is not the four-hour session but the one-week concentration. I love a series of weekly meetings; the one-week workshop forces us to depend on prior experience for context, and students never, never, never have time to do all the reading or to develop a thoughtful project. Thus, these workshop models usually involve a later due date for the project, when you are not able to de-brief them. So it is helpful to have an online component, and to have a reading list distributed far in advance of the actual course.


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