One may think that the success of a seminar fully relies on the lecturer’s capability; however, the role of the audience should not be underestimated. The research made on the group of students at Lancaster made it obvious. The seminar may turn out to be unproductive due to the learners’ lack of skills or inability to use the opportunities offered.
To realize what can be done to squeeze the most of the seminars, we should first understand what they are actually for. So let’s find it out.
Why should you conduct seminars?
Though to some students it may seem they only gain knowledge at lectures, it is not quite so. Learning is actually the main aim of any seminar as it deepens the understanding of a subject, broadens the outlook and develops learners’ philosophical skills. So seminars are primarily aimed at sharing knowledge and getting it!
Discussion can be considered as a key point of a successful seminar, thus useful discussion is what should be organized by the tutor.
Seminars are great for philosophizing, they give the participants an opportunity to study the opposite points of view to the same question and get them both clear. In the process of debating, students may finally decide which arguments are more convincing or even form their own approach to the problem under discussion.
Interaction is another important aspect of seminar work, in such a way students learn from one another. In an adult life, the “zone of proximal development” can be extended through forging the individual in the discussion process and seminars are a perfect tool to do it.
While at the lectures the information is given, the comprehension of it is checked at the seminars. Likewise with textbooks – at a seminar, the tutor has an opportunity to find out how the material has been understood by the learners.
Seminars can be a good environment to test essay ideas. However, as the essay writing is the part of the academic assessment, students may be reluctant to test out their ideas this way. In such a case you can make the learners practice what they need to do but on related concepts.
How to prepare for a seminar?
To prepare an effective and flawless session for your students, you simply need careful advanced planning. A seminar may contain a bit of a lecture, small-group activities, brainstorming, debates and problem-solving.
To get the maximum impact combine all the activities in a smart way. Also, keep the following points in mind:
- Make your goal clear. Define the main aim of your work and the important aspects students should comprehend.
- Form a plan in advance. You need to have a clear idea of the content you want to discuss and the result you want to get from your learners, either it’s a session for getting a better understanding of some scientific aspect or essay preparatory work.
- Plan carefully. With a clear goal in mind, put down the main points of the content to study and then break general ideas into more specific details. Think where you will integrate activities of various kinds. Don’t forget about the timing of each activity.
- Decide how you will get everyone involved. To make the seminar memorable you have to make listeners active. So, prepare some icebreakers and tasks for individual work and for small groups, think of the interaction with the whole class as well.
- Make a proper presentation on the topic under study and hand-outs for students.
As soon as everything is accurately planned and prepared, you can be sure half of the work is already done, but there’s still the seminar itself to be held and further aspects to take into consideration.
How to run a seminar?
Don’t forget that your responsibility is to provide your students with the necessary information and materials in advance so that they are able to get ready.
Set the scene of the seminar at the beginning of it, remind the topic and the subject of the discussion. If you do not know how to present a seminar in class, start with some slides to set out the background of your meeting as well.
Then you may kick off the discussion by giving your students the starting point for it with some question. During the seminar you should play a role of a facilitator and moderator of the discussion. Do not run into providing some new information or additional facts on the topic to your students.
Move the discussion further with a series of questions prepared in advance. They may be announced to the students in the very beginning of the seminar or put at suitable moments to go further through the key areas.
Mind the time and regulate the discussion flow according to your plan, you can either stop some activity at a certain logical point or cut the number of questions.
What are the most common problems with seminars?
We should always remember that there isn’t only bright side to any aspect, with seminars as well, there is a number of typical problems you’d better be prepared for.
- Long silence. Though it may not necessarily be a bad sign, don’t let it last too long. Be prepared to put the right questions and move the discussion forward using the group activities you that have in your plan.
- Students are not ready. As a tutor, you should do your best to make the learners realize what is essential for them. Remember that your students may simply have too much reading, so chose the materials they should study for the seminars very carefully. In such a case the background will be clear to everybody, otherwise, provide it as an introduction to the held seminar and motivate further discussion.
- A student or two dominating the group. Always encourage wider participation, motivate working in pairs and small groups, interrupt and ask questions directing the learners widely.
Now you know that a perfect seminar requires planning in advance, clear goals, strong focus, and creativity. If the participants leave it with a feeling that it was relevant and productive, it was definitely a success! Follow these tips and keep up the good work in future!