This course was structured around 20 questions, as I've mentioned before. Now that I have completed the experience, I can think about the questions, the limitations and how I can use this in my own classroom (cue evil henchman laugh here) .
For each two hours seminar session, two questions were assigned. A reading list of 5-7 pieces were assigned for each question. The person who presented on each question was responsible for setting the stage for the whole class discussion - unpacking the question, reviewing the ideas of the scholars assigned, etc. In practice, this meant that only one person had actually done all of the reading for the question, because there was too much reading to be done on any one day.
Having one person who has knowledge about the topic, and other people who had their own ideas about the topics derived from a few of the readings and their own ideas or experiences, made the discussions possible. Sometimes the professor had to fill in ideas or connections that we hadn't made. Or explained ideas from readings that no one had a chance to do. But the fundamental approach was an interesting and deliberate one.
For my building democracy course in the fall, I want to follow a similar structure. While this won't be feasible for all days (since some days are test days, work days, etc), for most days of the course I can come up with one or two guiding questions. I have taught a version of this course before, so I have some good questions to work with. I also intend to model some questions from those used in the course. Students will be assigned at the very beginning of the semester to specific questions. As homework before that day, the student assigned to the question will be asked to write a short response to the question (250-500 words) and to expect that they will be looked to in class at the Resource Person (Point Person?) on the issue. I need to come up with a name for this, just for convenience's sake. But I think anchoring the course around student work for each day would be very helpful. I have thought about doing something like this before, but didn't feel like I could structure the questions far enough in advance. I feel like I can do this for next year.
I was a bundle of intense anxiety about my presentations. I don't want to create this kind of anxiety in my students, but in some ways I do. I definitely paid attention to, and tried to think though, the readings much more carefully on my presentation days. So how to create a structure like this without intense anxiety, but a more reasonable nervousness? How to support students through an expereince like this - my support was being able to complaint and vent with classmates at meals and after school, but there was no guidance or help in presenting. I wouldn't want to do presentations each day, but to have the Point Person be the person who answers questions will cause anxiety itself, I bet.
I guess if the list of questions is determined really early, the list of readings should be as well. That would give me the opportunity to meet with students in advance if they had questions on the topic. That may be the solution, Though how much time I will have for this, I don't know.