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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Structuring Faculty Workshops

A prawf writes:

We (i.e. “I”) are (am) thinking about starting a workshop here at ___ (not to bring in speakers, but for internal presentation).  What ground rules do you set for participation in your workshop? Do you require any kind of commitment from faculty, or is it open to whoever wants to come that week? Any ideas on “best practices” would be helpful, especially since we're concerned about cultivating a committed group of regulars while minimizing free-riding.

Some thoughts and an invitation for you all to hop in, after the jump.


    I can't say what best practices are, but here are some options. At FSU, our internal workshop series usually occurs in the summer b/c during the school year we have about 20-30 speakers from enrichment and app-comm per semester. That said, we do have some very informal internal workshops during the school year too, but they're usually for untenureds and they  get to decide who to invite. At least that's my recollection. 
    Most of internal presentations have operated under a pretty conventional structure, one that's similar to our job talk structure: the school provides lunch and circulates the paper a few days to a week in advance. The person would then present for 20 minutes and there'd be roughly 40 minutes for Q/a. Many folks would have read the paper but probably not all (if my own behavior is any guide).
For my own internal presentation last summer, I didn't want to have any presentation at all except 3 minutes to describe the basic claim and what my anxieties about the paper are. I told people in advance that there would be no "formal" presentation, with the hope that this would spur more people to read the paper even if the audience were smaller.  I think this worked well. My hope is that those who read will ask more questions especially if the paper is somewhat developed, and that those folks who hadn't read would not take precious time away from those who had read the paper.
    That latter structure is closer to what happens at Prawfsfest! and the crim law theory colloquium up at NYU/BLS that I'm involved with. In both those venues, only people who have read are welcome to the room to participate.
    From what I can tell, I think NYU's faculty workshop has a rule /norm that the "presenter" has to circulate a paper no longer than 30 pages and there is no presentation at all so the expectation is that everyone will have read the paper and there will be questions for an hour or so. (Rick/Rob, correct me if I'm wrong). I've heard other schools do an incubator workshop model: 10 pages of draft or 10 minutes of talking by the presenter (or both?), and the rest of the hour is brainstorming/challenges, ideas for development and further reading. 
    So, capping presentation time or paper length might be helpful in terms of facilitating scholarship growth. Part of the decision-making will turn on whether the idea behind the presentation is to render vulnerable a piece that's developed already (in which case, don't cap the paper length but do cap the presentation time) or instead to generate ideas and resources for growing the piece from an acorn into an oak tree (in which case, capping both presentation time and paper length could be helpful). So perhaps there should be two workshop formulae: 1/4 baked and 3/4 baked. Maybe the best thing to do is allow the presenter  to decide which format she would prefer, and hopefully that will shape the nature of the feedback. 
    Here are some other posts we've had on the subject of faculty workshops. You can probably find some more in our archives.



What do you all think about the best way to structure workshops? 


Posted by Administrators on September 27, 2011 at 03:12 PM in Blogging, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Here at the University of Iowa, we have three formats: (1) the traditional job-talk format, in which a 20-minute presentation is followed by 40 minutes of questioning, with faculty members varying in the degree to which they have read the full paper in advance; (2) a highly informal format, with no advance reading required, in which a prospective author gets early help in conceptualizing a future writing project; and (3) a format modeled on the Iowa Writers Workshop, in which reading the paper in advance is a requirement for participation, and in which the author is not allowed to speak--instead, the hour is filled by readers talking amongst themselves (in the presence of the author) about the paper's strengths and weaknesses and about alternative angles the author might want to pursue. We do all three of these formats year-round.

Posted by: Todd Pettys | Sep 28, 2011 4:34:40 PM

Just following up on Professor Cohen's description of his workshop at Harvard, I think it might be even better if participants were required to "shake both hands all about" when they want to refer to their own scholarship in the question, and that they should do a small dance (no longer than 10 seconds) if they want to do that thing where they make a long speech and then add, at the end, annoyingly, "question mark?"

Posted by: Jay Wexler | Sep 28, 2011 10:15:08 AM

It may depend on what the purpose of the workshop is. For internal speakers it seems it should either be to help the speaker improve the paper or it might be to expose the faculty to the work. If it is the former, there should be an assumption that everyone has read the paper, and little to no presentation should be required, and I also think those who have not read the paper should refrain from interacting. (I like the format where someone else presents/critiques a paper but this would not work well for junior scholars.) If it is just to expose people to work and have some social time, then the person might present the paper and the speaker should not expect much helpful feedback. Presenting a paper to people who have not read it can lead to some useful comments but my experience suggests that is not common.

Posted by: MS | Sep 28, 2011 9:08:20 AM

I think it would be interesting to experiment with a seminar-like format, in which all participants have read the paper; the discussion is led by a moderator/facilitator; and the participants discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the paper -- talking to one another, rather than only to the author (who is, of course, present). The Q&A format can sometimes put the author in the position of defending his or her work in response to each question, rather than engaging with the audience in a constructive way to explore the paper's potential.

Posted by: Laura Heymann | Sep 28, 2011 12:15:57 AM

Something I've recently tried in the Health Law Policy & Bioethics workshop I run at Harvard with Einer Elhauge, http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/petrie-flom/workshop/index.html, is to have people raise one hand for a new question and both hands if they want to follow-up on the last question, with the idea being that it allows more of a flow to develop on a subject. We've only done two sessions thus far this year with this new rule in place, but thus far it seems to have worked quite well.

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Sep 27, 2011 11:05:36 PM

My recollection is that Duke allowed both the traditional format (20 min presentation and 40 min Q&A) and the 10/10 (10 min of presentation, no more than 10 pages circulated). The presenter could choose which format suited the paper better.

Posted by: Scott Dodson | Sep 27, 2011 3:19:28 PM

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