I am currently coordinating one of the Honours courses in VUW’s Cultural Anthropology Programme. In it, the students design and carry out an independent research project on a topic of their choice. Part of the assessment involves them giving a seminar about their work. This year the students will present papers based on their research in a 1-day Anthropology and Agency Honours Student Conference.
Why a conference?
In other courses the students make hour-long presentations (often in pairs) to one another on various aspects of their work. Since they will become quite proficient in making long presentations by the end of the year, I decided to see if they wanted to do something a little different and run a conference instead.
I love going to conferences and have also spoken about my research at less formal events (such as Rotary and Save the Children meetings). I believe that it is important for anthropologists to be able to speak about their work in a range of public settings and thought it would be fun for the students to get involved in organising their own conference.
My teaching goals for this conference are:
- to complement the oral presentation skills they are developing in other courses
- to provide them with further career training
- to provide them with an opportunity to try out their ideas and gain feedback on their work in a constructive forum
- to showcase what our Cultural Anthropology Honours students are doing to other students and staff.
How we organised it
I pitched my conference idea to them after the mid-year break. Everyone seemed keen so in July we decided on a date, time, and conference theme. Although no two research projects are the same, we had noticed in earlier class discussions that a number of people were addressing the concept of agency in some form, so this seemed like a good theme to loosely link the papers.
Students will present 15-minute papers in panels of three followed by a 15 minute panel discussion where the audience will ask questions of the presenters. This format seemed less scary for first-time presenters, and panel discussions can be a good way to draw out connections and links between the papers.
The students all sent me abstracts which I collated into a booklet to distribute at the conference: Anthropology and Agency Honours Student Conference Abstract Booklet. Some also volunteered to take on the role of session chair, which involves making sure everyone keeps within their allotted time and facilitating the discussion. Through this conference students will gain experience in:
- writing abstracts
- conference organisation
- writing and presenting short papers
- answering questions ‘on their feet’
- asking thoughtful, constructive, critical questions of their fellow presenters
- tweeting updates with the #AAHSC hashtag (for those so inclined)
The VUW Anthropology Society has organised a post-conference gathering at Hunter Lounge. (The VUW Anthropology Society is also on Facebook.)