What is a seminar?
A seminar is generally understood to be a small group meeting in which students and sometimes a tutor discuss information on a chosen topic. They may be called something else such as "tutorial groups". Seminars provide an opportunity to explore topics by discussion, and to identify and sort out any problems. Some tutors may use the opportunity to introduce new related topics. Most seminars last for an hour. Seminars need not necessarily be face-to-face contact, they can also occur in online environments.
Who does what?
Often a seminar is led by a student who prepares and presents the topic and kicks off the discussion. So that the seminar is of benefit to everyone, it is the responsibility of the other students to contribute their ideas, opinions and questions. For this to work well these contributions should have been researched and prepared in advance. The tutor's role is as a facilitator. Their aim is not to 'give a mini lecture' but to try to encourage contributions from all those present by asking questions that stimulate further discussion. At the end of the seminar they may sum up and draw some conclusions.
Why have seminars?
Seminars create opportunities to:
- explore topics in more depth;
- share ideas in a way that will advance your thinking;
- learn from other people's experiences and background knowledge;
- gain perspectives and points of view that you might not have otherwise considered;
- identify and sort out any misunderstandings.
What's in it for you?
Opportunity to clarify and deepen your understanding and increase your confidence in the topics studied.
Before you can express your ideas in a group discussion you need to get them straight in your head. Often when we communicate our ideas to others the process of putting our thoughts into spoken form enables us to help clarify them further. It may also allow us to see things in a way that we had not done before. In a seminar, the group shares the responsibility for keeping control of the discussion. This gives you the chance to gather your own thoughts before you present them against the different points of view that are offered by the other participants. In this way, a group can collectively advance their level of thinking through an effective combination of independent reading and group discussion. As you become more familiar, and in turn more confident, with discussing as a group, the discussions will become closer to the level of ideas that you are reading in texts.
A comfortable environment in which to practise and develop a range of valuable study skills and transferable skills.
By taking part in your seminars you will learn more about your subject area, and become more comfortable with the language of your subject area. Terms which before you thought were unnecessary ‘jargon’ now have some meaning. Besides that, you will have the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills that will enable you to get a good degree and make you a more employable graduate.
Listed below are some of the skills - often called transferable skills - that you will be developing:
Ideal chance to build a up network of peer support.
One of the best things about attending a seminar is discovering that other students are experiencing the same difficulties as you. By sharing your concerns you will be able to put get them into perspective. You will also come to realise that there are different ways of approaching the same topic. In a seminar, the onus is on sharing ideas and working together to enable everyone to become more familiar and confident with the course content. Seminar groups often become supportive of each other’s efforts. Some seminar groups even end up meeting without their tutor!
Preparing for Seminars
The key to getting the most out of a seminar is putting the time in beforehand. It could be that you have been given a seminar pack to work through in preparation for each seminar or that your tutor has given you a list of seminar topics and a reading list. Regardless of whether or not you are leading the seminar, it is your responsibility to contribute. You need to be ready with some points that you wish to discuss, opinions to share and questions to ask. Your tutor and peers will not appreciate it if you continually turn-up with nothing to offer. Neither will you gain confidence in those transferable skills that develop through active participation in such group situations.
However, if you have not managed to do the reading in preparation for the session it would be a bad idea to use this as an excuse for not attending the seminar. You will still deepen your understanding of the topic and have opportunity to practise and observe good communication skills. More importantly, you will appreciate how much more you would get out of seminars if you do the necessary preparation.