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Seminar leadership roles

Due: As assigned
Length: n.a. (500 words equiv.)
Weight: 10%

We often face a problem in seminar discussions. Students are supposed to drive the agenda, but if students don’t prepare, or want to avoid participating (because they are shy, worried, or lack confidence, etc.) then the discussion is driven by the instructor, and becomes a ping-pong game of question-and-answer, if not a lecture. This problem led Marshall Sahlins to adopt “the Melbourne method” of seminar discussion, which ironically he implemented in graduate seminars at Chicago, and as far as anyone knows has never been utilized at Melbourne (Sahlins 2009, 305). It has been used for many years at the University of Chicago in graduate seminars. In the so-called Melbourne method, groups of students in the seminar take turns leading the discussion while other groups are assigned other roles to support the leaders and help the discussion work through questions and issues productively.

Likewise, to learn how to work in a group of peers, and to avoid having our classes devolve into lectures by Ryan, one of your assignments is to prepare a specific kind of contribution each week and play a specific role in the class. Last year, Terry Woronov and I modified Sahlins’s adopted method for use in ANTH 3602: Reading ethnography, and it went very well. Students really liked the idea of taking charge of the class each week, and performed their roles enthusiastically. For this class, we will use the Woronov-Schram method of seminar leadership again. Everyone in class will be assigned to a small group of five or six people. Each week, your group will be assigned to take on a specific role in leading the class discussion, and these roles will rotate among the groups. The leadership roles are:

  1. to identify topics for discussion and to ask open-ended questions for everyone to debate

  2. to answer the questions that people ask, and to offer points on specific topics

  3. to make (constructive) comments about and/or ask (genuine) questions of other people about their ideas. (“Why do you think that way?”; “What was the thing that led you to your idea?”; “We are looking at this from X perspective, and I think we should also consider Y as an alternative perspective.”)

  4. to call on people who have not spoken, to remind the class to make space for other voices, to evaluate the overall discussion (including the degree of people’s participation), and to make suggestions for improvement (Was the discussion successful? How can we make the discussion more interesting and useful?)

The purpose of this division of labor is to make sure everyone prepares to participate in class discussion, and to help set up a class discussion in which students take the lead. Hence, the structure of discussion in class will be flexible.

  • First and most importantly, you are never limited to your role in any one class, but you are responsible for fulfilling your role in addition to sharing your own ideas.
  • Second, this is not meant to be a cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers, step-by-step routine. We will not always march through each group’s contributions in order. Rather, each person in each group should be ready to chime in with their particular kind of contribution, either when it seems like it is useful, or when someone calls on you to offer it.

Your group does not have to prepare anything together, but you can if you want. This is not a group assignment; everyone will be individually graded on whether or not they fulfilled their assigned role.

Sahlins, Marshall. 2009. “My Real-Magical Year with Greg Dening.” The Contemporary Pacific 21 (2): 304–5. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23724853.

3601/2020/seminar_leadership_roles.txt · Last modified: 2020/02/11 23:12 (external edit)