Lectures & Seminars

  1. Lectures
  2. Seminars

What happens in seminars?

Once again, try a brainstorm, this time on some ideas about seminars.

Task

Scribble down a few thoughts and then click on the links for answers.

  1. What is a seminar? (answer).
  2. Where might it take place? (answer).
  3. How long might it last? (answer).
  4. What sorts of information might you be given in a seminar? (answer).
  5. What are you supposed to do in a seminar? (answer).
  6. How does a seminar differ from a lecture? (answer).

Answer Q1:

A seminar is a group discussion on a specific topic related to a lecture, held between students and a seminar tutor who might or might not also have been the person who gave the lecture on the subject.

Answer Q2:

Seminars are held in seminar rooms - that’s just a class room which could hold 50 or 15. A seminar group will typically be around 15 students. There could be fewer or more than this, but there’s unlikely to be much above 20.

Answer Q3:

A seminar could last from one to two hours, depending on the subject, and on whether there’s a lecture for each seminar. If there isn’t, sometimes the seminars are longer, because they have a ‘lecture’ part to them, before the seminar proper.

Answer Q4:

A seminar broadens out the subject of a lecture and lots of other elements are discussed; other angles, theories, new ideas, links between subjects and so on.

Answer Q5:

Students are expected to join in the discussion. A tutor will ask questions and wants to know what you think. You’re not only allowed to contribute but are positively encouraged to do so.

A seminar is for the students to say what they want; an opportunity to discuss the topics connected to the subject that they want to investigate. The tutor will probably lead off the discussion, bring it back if it’s gone too far off the point, and sometimes keep it going if everyone dries up, but it’s really the time for students to explore possibilities.

It’s also a good time to clarify anything in the lecture that needs explaining - have your lecture notes ready.

You also have to be ready to take notes in seminars as lots of interesting points come up during dynamic discussion. The tutor will be just as interested in new ideas as you are - don’t forget that group dynamics and other factors mean that the answer to a question posed by a tutor will be different in each seminar group.

Get all those fascinating thoughts you and other people are coming up with down on paper.
Don’t be scared to talk. It’s polite to do so.
Every tutor knows students who are silent in seminars but hand in reasonable assignments. Sometimes this is through shyness, but do your best to overcome it, as it’s selfish to contribute nothing to the discussion, but write down everyone else’s ideas for use in an essay.
This might seem like a good idea but it isn’t. It means you’re limited to what everyone else thinks and wants to discuss.
What if you have lots of things to say?
Don’t hog the discussion, but allow others to take it in the direction they want sometimes. Then if there’s a gap, you can politely say, ‘I wonder if we could go back to the question of ………., as there’s something I’d like to explore..’

Answer Q6:

The most obvious difference is that you’re usually silent in a lecture but are part of a discussion in a seminar.

Lectures are generally delivered to much larger groups of students - whole subject year groups, sometimes, perhaps 150 students.
Seminars are given in much smaller groups and often last longer than lectures. The information will be broader, usually based on a lecture, but opened out into a discussion.

If a lecture is, say, on Dickens, it might contain bits of his life history, dates, contemporary reception of his work by critics and readers, an overview of his career, themes on which he concentrated, critics who’ve written on him, and how he’s now received.

In a seminar, however, you might discuss a single Dickens novel and the themes, plot events and characterisation in it, with students being asked their own ideas about meanings.