Tips from the McMaster Community

My students don't come prepared for seminars led by their peers with the result that the student presenter ends up giving a lecture.
Bob Hudspith, Mechanical Engineering

To me, a good seminar requires that everyone come prepared to discuss a common reading. However, I have often found that when the seminar is student led, the student presenter is the only person who is prepared. Assigning a reading doesn't always help; if the readings are too long, few students will read them, and if an excerpt from a longer reading is assigned it tends to be difficult to understand out of context.

To overcome this situation, I require student presenters to prepare a short position paper based on their own research and this becomes the common reading for the week. The paper is to be written with the existing knowledge of the readers in mind and is to be made available to all participants a few days in advance. The paper must be thought provoking, not just descriptive, and should include a short bibliography and at least three discussion questions. (To save paper I ask that the position papers be single spaced and printed on both sides.)

If only one student is to lead the 50 minute seminar, I expect the position paper to be about 2,500 words. If two or three presenters are involved I ask that the papers be no longer than 1,500 words.

Presenters spend the first 10 to 15 minutes expanding on their paper, outlining another position, or involving the group in an exercise that will illustrate one or more of the central points. The remainder of the time can then be devoted to an informed discussion.

I have found that this involves the entire seminar group in an interactive and enlightening session.

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