Running Seminars 2

October 30, 2009

You’ve had a look at some other sites to get an idea about how groups work. What next? Let’s assume for the moment that your group is starting to work well – you are communicating, you’re able to rely on the others to do some work, you’re preparing before the seminar. (I’ll post up later some suggestions about what to do if you think the group isn’t working). What stages should you work through before you decide what format the seminar will take? Read the rest of this entry »

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Running seminars 1

October 30, 2009

I promised to come up with some ideas about how to run seminars better. As historians, our instinctive reaction to a problem is to see what we can read about it – fortunately, there’s a huge amount of writing about teaching and learning online, much of it excellent. Please pick at least one of the links in bold below, and think about how it relates to what we’re trying to achieve. Read the rest of this entry »


Week 5 Review

October 28, 2009

Grand strategy now completed as a topic, and whilst the impression I got from the seminars was that not everyone had got the chronology of events sorted out in their head, we have all grasped some big themes. In terms of this topic as a whole, I think that I should probably miss out the week at the start where I try to do the war as a whole, spend a week on the run up to war, then do 3 weeks on wartime strategy – that would allow me to give the weight that the early war needs without running out of time. But this will always be a difficult issue – as the documents we looked at in seminar suggested, the combination of enduring concepts and reaction to circumstances make strategy something you have to study both in the immediate and the long term.
I’d forgotten how much work needs to go into setting up the first primary source seminar, and in particular the need to emphasise that this is a learning process. Hopefully, today gave people a chance to work on the basics – what sort of document is this, who produced it (look at the DNB through Senate House for help), and what is the surrounding context (why not use the timelines here to help?). Next time, I think that I’ll get all groups to prepare one question for the rest to discuss, as a means of increasing interaction and preventing this seminar turning into a one-at-a-time journey round the table.
One of the sources we looked at today was a pair of Low cartoons. If you’re interested in using visual sources, you might like to look at Dr Rebecca Lewis’ Second World War poster site, with its associated blog.


Reflecting on seminars

October 21, 2009

This post is to start, I hope, a comments thread in which we’ll all discuss what we’ve learned in terms of skills from watching the first three weeks of students attempting to run seminars. What worked, what needed to be done differently, how will you approach things next time? For me, I’ve remembered that one of the hardest things personally on trying to teach the course like this is balancing the different roles I have to take. I ought to shut up and let people get on with it more, but at the same time I want to jump in to drive discussion (quite aside from pedagogically, that’s just the sort of person I am), and I also need to try to help everyone learn how to run the seminar. I will try to keep my mouth zipped for longer as the term goes on. What about the rest of you?


Week Four Review

October 21, 2009

Well, I’ve obviously re-calibrated my sights, because I managed to get the lecture to time. It lacked a few bells and whistles – it could have done with more images, and it would have been nice to give students a short task to allow them to get their concentration back – I thought I was losing people by about 45 minutes in. But I’m probably better at keeping to time where I don’t over prepare.
The seminar groups really impressed me again with the amount of work people had put in to prepare for running the sessions. It was interesting to see that – probably as a result of the reading, Overy and Grigg, students tended to focus on the operational and technological obstacles to a 1943 invasion. What comes across less well in the reading I assigned was the chain of causality from the summer of 1942 – once you don’t have a 1942 cross Channel attack, there’s little option for political reasons but for TORCH, and once you have TORCH, a cross Channel operation in 1943 becomes logistically impossible, as was recognised at the time. But the readings are good for getting students to think about concepts such as counter-factual argument.


Royal Oak Commemoration

October 16, 2009

(cross posted to Trench Fever)

As in previous years, the anniversary of the sinking of the battleship Royal Oak was recently marked by the replacement of the flag that ‘flies’ from the sunken vessel – this time, seventy years on from the first Royal Navy disaster of the Second World War. You can read more about the ship, what happened to it, and the commemorations – and see some amazing pictures – at this site.


Weeks Two and Three Reviews

October 16, 2009

We’ve spent the last two weeks looking at British grand strategy. Twice, I’ve fallen short in the lectures – trying to cover too much space in too little time, and running out of minutes at the end. Ironically, this is a function of knowing this period better than I did the last time I lectured on this subject – there’s just more I think ought to go in. Combined with the process of readjustment that takes place at the start of every year, that’s left me with too much to get through. Next week, I’ll be really strict with myself about the number of slides I produce to force me to keep time properly.
What’s been impressive is how well the students have coped nonetheless. I’ve had good attempts to run the seminars from the responsible groups both times so far, and whilst the students find the prospect of directing discussion challenging, in all cases they’ve managed to illuminate the subject for each other. I hope we can keep it up.
There are more students on the course than I expected, and this means that the potential number of website reviews is very large. I’m keen to put these up online, but I’m not sure what the best system would be – I was going to do a simple page on the blog, but with between 50 and 300 reviews, I’m wondering if some sort of wiki database might be better. I wonder what free and easily understandable software there is to set something like that up?