Does anyone else find that the well-meaning trend in seminar of “first question from a student” tends not to succeed?

My proposal: THIRD question must be from a student.

Students usually need time to process the talk and build up the courage/conviction to ask it. And once faculty get the ball rolling it feels easier to raise your hand. I think it’s on hosts to check the vibe partway through and explicitly ask for students to talk, but at the start never seems to work well.

And by “not succeed,” I mean an awkward pause followed by the host relenting and letting a faculty member ask a question.

I know that waiting longer can help, but as a trainee that awkward pause stresses me out and interferes with my thinking of a question to ask!

Show thread

@askennard When seminars went online during UK COVID lockdowns I noticed a much greater range of people asking questions than in person.
At least in part this was due to being able to type and edit a question - which helps with formulating the question more clearly - and having that extra thinking time in a space where people aren't looking at you.

Even when people were then called to read out their questions by the chair there was still an increase in students asking questions

@askennard some of the improvement was through the tech, so there might be ways to build on that in person, still.

Perhaps one option is to use something like Mentimeter during the seminar, so that the host can see questions coming in from everyone.

Some of the improvement was from the change in the culture that came from seeing this model bed in and be supported by the chairs, speakers and attendees.

Plans to increase participation need continuing input and support week after week

@Retropz you’re absolutely right that continuous support and a consistent format would help. I think this was the root problem at the recent seminar that got me thinking about this: the host didn’t mention that he would ask for a question from students until immediately before. It felt like an afterthought. To everyone’s surprise this didn’t work! 🙄

@askennard I think it puts undo pressure on the trainees. Around me it's particularly difficult to get students to ask questions. I think the best approach is more subtle and requires a good moderator: When four people raise their hands to ask a question, three are old white males and one is a trainee, let the trainee ask the question. One can encourage questions from trainees, but making it mandatory puts a burden on them.

@JoseEdGomes I agree that the most important component of any potential strategy is a moderator that actually cares about the end goal of encouraging trainee participation, and acts deliberately to achieve that goal! Otherwise it’s just so much more meaningless posturing.

@askennard @JoseEdGomes

The moderator is really important.

If a talk is really bad, it's usually only the PIs who can come up with a cogent question.

I think a good moderator should know the seminar was a stinker and if so just let the PIs ask questions. If it was a fantastic talk, that is when to pause before picking a PI question or cajole students to ask questions.

Having the moderator choose the questioner is ideal, because the speaker usually has tunnel vision.

@askennard that's a good idea! I was once at a Gordon Conference where they really pushed 1st q from trainee (rewarded with candy bars) and it worked. But thinking back, it only encouraged one or two trainees to go for it and hoard the candy bars -they are now super-successful PIs (make of that what you will). Any strategy that encourages wider participation would be better.

@steveroyle I’m really impressed with the variety of good ideas that emerged in this thread!

@steveroyle @askennard

So the candy bar thing may seem kind of silly, but one thing that it did was highlight who was a trainee. That was my first GRC in the field, and I didn't know who was who. Having the other trainees pointed out to me was really valuable since it made me realize there were a lot of other trainees there.

This was before the GRSs were invented, which I think are a fabulous idea.

@askennard @JoseEdGomes I 've liked the spirit of the system at my current uni, where the format is: "as always, we'll pause 30s so you can chat to your neighbour, and then we'll take questions with first from students."

The 30s pause is nice. It gives a chance for ideas to formalize, and maybe boost student confidence to ask that question if they ask their neighbour and their neighbour is like "oh... huh yeah I dunno. You should ask."

This what @MarkHanson
mentioned was in place but for 10secs in #ento23, and I thouhlght it works quite well
@askennard @JoseEdGomes

@MarkHanson @askennard That sounds like a good idea. Do you notice an positive effect? I'll suggest something along those line in my department.

@JoseEdGomes I know I personally am more likely to ask a question if I get a chance to nudge my neighbour and say "hey... am I crazy, or [this]?"

In the end, students don't really ask much still, but at least it helps.

@MarkHanson @JoseEdGomes this is a fantastic idea! I’m going to try to suggest it to folks in my dept.

Who would have thought that techniques for effective teaching would work in a seminar???

@askennard I agree this is an issue and that students need time to process. some people may never ask a question for very good reasons, e.g. because of neurodivergent or mental health condition which means they are unable to speak up. I agree with the other comments that good moderation is key and that zoom taught good lessons. It's not beyond the realm of current tech to poll comments via an app and then get the moderator to ask the question on the students' behalf.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
Qoto Mastodon

QOTO: Question Others to Teach Ourselves
An inclusive, Academic Freedom, instance
All cultures welcome.
Hate speech and harassment strictly forbidden.