Round table

Subject: English. Course: Pack up your troubles – the peace process in Northern Ireland. Study level: Bachelor 4th semester. Class size: 14.

Motivation for the activity

Evaluations stated that the students lacked a more textual review of the material. The seminars are a place where we raise the texts to a higher level, and because the material is comprehensive and complex, I hold a round table where the students use a classical source-critical review of the texts to manage the analysis - but with me as an observer.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

Navigating Northern Ireland's ideological morass is a difficult task that requires strong source-critical and analytical skills. This exercise trains the students as well as the lecturer in breaking up texts for in-depth discussion.

Description of the activity

We arranged the tables so everyone sat around them and I drew up a list of questions that you could ask of a source:

  • Who has written it?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • To whom?
  • What is the context?
  • Which philosophical, judicial, political and theoretical position is it a part of?
  • What is the intention?

Questions that range from the explanatory to the interpretative.

I had given them the list of questions beforehand and asked them to prepare two questions themselves: an interpretation question (something they did not understand) and a central question that they thought you could find the answer to in the text. So they were forced to try and decode the text and summarise something that the text contained.

We concluded the Round Table discussion with each of the students having to formulate the thesis in the text. We then talked briefly about the discrepancies we had in our perceptions, both between our readings and between the source’s perception of the conflict.

In this way we reviewed the texts but on a level where I was not the one who presented them (even though I could not completely resist).

It was nice to sit around a table and it is the only time where I found that the debate did not alternate between myself and a student - and then another student, but actually became an exchange between all of us, without raised hands but in a loose conversation where different participants took responsibility for bringing us back to the original question or on to the next.

Physically rearranging the room definitely meant something for their sense of how to participate. And the list of questions provided direction.

Outcome of the activity

The students were very pleased to review the texts, and I was very pleased that they did not 'have them reviewed' by me, but had to be active themselves.

They rarely discuss with one another, but that is what they did here. There also had a clear sense of being able to help each other and find their way. You can clearly do that better sitting in a circle!

Sara Dybris McQuaid

Associate professor

Materials for the course

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  • THEME: Activities in sessions
  • THEME: Activities between sessions

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