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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Modified Workshop Queuing Experiment

In the interest of sharing ideas, I wanted to say a word about workshops. Over the last several years I have co-run with Einer Elhauge a workshop in health policy, biotechnology, and bioethics, where leading scholars present works in progress.

We usually have a significant number of faculty and fellows, as well as several students who enroll for credit. The session is about two hours, with 30 minutes ear marked for the presenter and the rest for Q & A. After observing our faculty workshops and other Harvard Law workshops over the years, I became dissatisfied with standard queue system, in part because tangents or ideas get lost and don’t build on one another as much as I would like. Instead I have used what I call the “modified queue,” am quite happy with it, and want to share it with you (and also get other ideas you have used that work).

Here is how it works (it sounds much harder than it is, it is pretty easy in operation):

- Raise one hand and get listed on the “regular” queue just like in most workshops.

- Raise TWO hands if you have a follow-up question to one that has been asked (or to the answer to it). I always remind people here that they will be policed by the social opprobrium of others if their “follow-up” question does not look sufficiently follow-up-esque. I then go through all the follow-ups and put them on a follow-up queue [But note that if you ask a follow-up to a follow-up you are given no additional priority on the follow-up queue, just put to the end of it]

- If you are on the “regular queue” and you ask a follow-up I “demote” you and put you to the end of the “regular queue” as it now stands, thereby making asking a follow-up question slightly costly in that it means your own question is delayed.

- Occasionally when there are too many follow-ups (say more than four or five) and/or when we are getting towards the end of our time and someone who has been patiently waiting on the regular queue has not yet got to ask their question, I will “cheat” and start putting people asking follow-up questions to the end of the regular queue. This way I ensure that follow-ups don’t swallow the whole regular queue.

I (and I think others who have attended the workshop from what I hear) have been very happy with this system. I have now started exporting it to conference sessions I chair where the format is workshop-y too. Try it out, if you care to, and let me know what you think!

Posted by Ivan Cohen on May 17, 2013 at 10:31 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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