Preparation for Leading a Seminar

This week I got to dabble in the art of “leading a seminar”. Perhaps in the medieval times we would have had wine to enhance this conversation… (I actually know quite little about medieval history so if that is inaccurate I apologize – this perhaps will be my tragic flaw but only time will reveal that). My knowledge does however extend to seminar leading and Github.

This week we looked at open source notebooks, their implications, barriers and how we can directly apply this to our class. I decided to put together some tips for others leading a seminar on things that I did that I found useful and useless.


– Do the readings twice. Read them the first time to make notes and raise questions (as if you were not leading the seminar). The second time around, read them and think about what material left you with unanswered questions. Or think about how to relate the article to that week’s discussion.
– Review the readings once again prior to the lecture. I did the readings a week in advance and had to review them the morning of to make sure I remembered everything.
– Take notes on Hypothesis. Hypothesis (although can be horrible) has it perks – my personal favourite is that I will never lose my notes. As well when others are doing the readings they can see what you are thinking about. As well, if you highlight the important parts then people are more likely to read those sections.
– Create your broad questions for discussion and post those. Then on your own time, make questions that are “lead-offs’. These are questions for when nobody responds, you can ask this question and perhaps it will trigger their minds to think about the topic differently.
– Answer your own questions. Not everybody will be talkative so make sure to bring your own ideas to the table.


– Making more than 5 broad questions. More often than not, you will find yourselves deep into conversation therefore creating more questions than necessary isn’t always the best. (I mean the ones you post, not the specific lead-off ones).
– Doing all the work. You want to make sure that you are not the only doing the readings for the week. You are definitely leading the seminar and making sure there are no silences but you want to make sure everyone isn’t piggybacking off of you. After all, we are working as a team.

I personally really enjoyed leading a seminar. I tried to ask questions that I knew would A) stir the pot and get discussion going and B) that would get people thinking. A lot of the questions that I asked were designed to have many different view points and answers. I wanted to make sure that I was limiting my own bias and allowing people to have a space for their own opinions. I think a topic like open source notebooks is hard because there are not really any right or wrong answers to this topic. It is still something that we are learning about even now. It will be definitely interesting to see how are topics evolve as we get further into our own projects and into the class.

One Reply to “Preparation for Leading a Seminar”

  1. There most definitely would have been wine or ale being served during any occasion during medieval times! I’m fairly certain ale was even drank during breakfast and by children, so there was never a bad time for alcohol.
    The seminar you led was really interesting, considering I found the readings slightly duller than previous weeks, so kudos to you! This was actually a smart week to choose to lead the seminar as it definitely cleared the air on how to use the certain tools we are using for the course and how they can be applied in class. Discussions are always better with a smaller group as well I find; it’s a much more comfortable surrounding.
    This blog post is extremely helpful for anyone wanting some extra tips on what they should focus on when they in turn lead a seminar, or just some quick reminders. I agree with your “useless” point of doing all the work by yourself; it’s really not fun when people haven’t done the readings and don’t put forth the effort. I also like your point where you said to create “lead off” questions, to kind of get people’s minds thinking if they haven’t gotten a response to the original question; they are quite helpful as I have been stumped by questions before and sometimes need some prompting from another idea!
    I also think you did a very good job at limiting your own bias, which is a difficult thing to do. You definitely gave the class the facts they needed to know and allowed us to state our own opinions on it. Leading a seminar is not an easy thing to do but you made it look easy! I’ll definitely be coming back to this blog post when it’s my turn to lead the seminar this semester.

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