Pan Arts Super Seminars – Reporter Article
Pan-Arts ‘super’ seminars bring benefits to tutors and students
Undergraduates from four schools from the Faculty of Arts have been taking part in a series of seminars designed to encourage the brightest students to really push themselves intellectually and, at the same time, find out more about postgraduate life.
“The Pan-Arts Scholars Seminars (PASS)– which build on the successful Scholars’ Seminar Scheme in Classics – invite selected students to attend a series of extracurricular seminars which are run by PhD Arts students,” says PhD researcher and series designer Sam Gartland. “Tess Hornsby Smith, from the faculty’s learning and teaching office, suggested that the model could be extended across the faculty, so this year the Pan-Arts seminars were introduced to include students from Classics, French, History and Theology.
“There’s no preparation for the seminars and no expected outcome, just an hour where students can focus on an unfamiliar topic. The aim is to stimulate discussion and people’s curiosity and creativity, and help students gain an awareness of subjects outside their immediate courses. The sessions have been incredibly lively; they’re billed as something prestigious, with only around 12 people invited to attend, so students really want to stand out and be seen to make a valuable contribution.
“The seminars are ‘blank’ – no-one knows what they’re going to be about in advance – so the emphasis is on quickness and creativity. The environment really tests people and gets them making a contribution, so it’s a great way of encouraging bright students to step forward, make themselves heard and build their confidence. As a tutor running one of the sessions, it was lovely to experience working with such an energetic and enthusiastic group.
“For the PhD students it’s also a great opportunity for them to use their own research and explore different ways of teaching. It asks them to step outside the confines of their research, engage with other people and make their subject accessible.
“People have used all kinds of teaching resources, such as music, computer presentations and videos, to encourage contributions – during one session on Second World War rationing, the researcher even brought in loaves of bread to demonstrate the size of the ration. Subjects, too, have been very varied; the four sessions in the second semester covered ‘walls’, ‘rationing’, ‘fire’ and ‘the city’. Each seminar is accompanied by handouts, which again enable the tutors to be creative and put together their own materials.”
Sam is keen to ensure that Masters students get involved, so he has established accompanying sessions for them which preceded the undergraduate seminars. In between, there was time for the different students to mix together and chat, allowing undergraduates to find out informally about postgraduate study.
The aim is to run the seminars next year, and there is another interesting use planned for the PhD students involved. “The Pan- Arts seminars give us a skilled group of PhD students, who are happy to go out and talk to sixth-formers and other young people about academic life and the student experience,” explains Sam. “To have a core group of PhD students to engage with the community like this will be an incredibly useful resource for the Faculty of Arts to draw on, especially with the increasing emphasis on access.”
“It was a pleasure to be involved, to think critically through issues and to understand how other people think too. Thanks to the great work of the four PhD students, the scheme was well-managed, and no-one was ever at a loss for something to say. All contributions were welcome as discussion turned to debate.”
Joel Isaacson, undergraduate studying French