An intervention by John Hawks on Savage Minds suggests that, while seminars are a common format for advanced undergraduate and graduate education, 

Seminar courses are often very poorly taught and professors routinely overrate the value of their sessions for students. 

I found myself agreeing with him. But putting that aside, what, I wonder, makes a good seminar. Many of us here have participated in seminars and must, in at least some cases, have found the experience enjoyable or productive. What made those good seminars good ones?

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Comment by Keith Hart on June 26, 2012 at 6:08pm

There are clearly good seminar leaders, but I have been impressed by the role of an institutional culture in predisposing the general outcome of seminars. The best average was in Ann Arbor Michigan. This was the first place in America to use the German method and I was always impressed by the democratic culture of the place, making for easy and lively interaction. Cambridge England on the other hand seemed to lend an oppressive hierarchy to seminars that few ever managed to escape from. One exception was a wonderful seminar I led for international students doing a conversion masters; it consisted of six white young men and six Asian women (one each from Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Pakistan, Bengal and Bombay). The women ran the show, but the conversation took in everyone eventually. I hardly had to do a thing. I prefer lecturing to crowds, but when my seminars have been successful, I would credit the composition of the class and the cultural context of the institution. I did read once that what people remember from a class is what they said themselves, so wide participation is the key.


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