Interactive seminar on the ethical handling of research data

Last Monday, I held a seminar on the ethical handling of research data for my colleagues at my division. I prepared the seminar as the examination for a research ethics course I took a few weeks ago – though I was left free to choose both its format and topic. I had originally thought of doing a “traditional” presentation, with my talking for about 30 minutes and a short quarter for the audience to ask questions and discuss the presentation’s contents. However, my supervisor convinced me otherwise. She had read my earlier post on active learning techniques, and thought the seminar would be a great opportunity for me to try and put into practice some of the tips and tricks I had learned.

I thus started to think about how I could set up the seminar so that all people present would:

  • find the seminar relevant and instructive;
  • be able to engage in a discussion around the topic of the seminar;
  • feel motivated to engage in such a discussion.

After some thought, I decided to qickly introduce to the audience the interactive nature of the seminar and its scope, before directly asking the people present what they were interested in talking about or had questions about. I prepared one to three PowerPoint slides for each topic and subtopic I had included in the scope of the seminar in order to be able to provide some more “formal” input to the questions raised during the discussion.

About 10 people showed up at the actual seminar, which turned out to be quite a good “size” considering the 45 minutes we had at our disposal. Three people answered my call for topics of interest. I inserted live each of the three questions in an empty slide of my PowerPoint presentation. I did not start addressing the first question that had been raised, but instead began with the topic I felt was more logical to start with, in an attempt to build a coherent discussion thread. I started by briefly presenting what I knew about this first topic using the relevant slides from my PowerPoint presentation – finding the “right” slides among the 20-25 ones I had in the presentation was a bit tricky – and then gave the word to the audience, asking them for additions, examples or questions. The discussions that followed were animated and interesting. I had been a bit nervous that my audience would remain stone silent, but once again, my fears were unfounded. Several members of the audience started talking to each other, asking each other questions and giving examples drawn from their own experience.

Unfortunately, a bit too much time was spent on the first topic, which made it necessary to rush through the two last ones. This was a bit frustrating since they were all very thought-provoking questions. However, it seemed that the people in the audience were nonetheless happy with the seminar. Several of my colleagues came up to me later on to let me know they had enjoyed having a talk on those particular topics – and wished that this would be more of an on-going discussion at the department.

As for myself, I really enjoyed holding the seminar and am happy about having succeeded in getting my audience to reflect on the topic I had chosen. My goal was also for me to learn something more through the process, which was also definitely achieved! As such, I would recommend such an interactive set-up for any seminar with similar objectives, though one drawback in my case was the long preparation time. Making the PowerPoint presentation did take a few hours, while in the end only a few slides were used during the seminar… Skipping having a presentation and using another kind of support when talking (like for example a white board) might have been a more “beneficial” option. I’ll remember it next time!

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