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Tutorials and seminars

Most programmes include tutorials with groups of students as one form of teaching. Although group tutorials can serve several purposes, it is common to conduct seminars in which students question and discuss material presented to them. This can help them to understand the material better and facilitate deep learning. To facilitate this you should bear the following points in mind:

a) Ensure that the planned learning outcomes are appropriate.

Seminars are an appropriate context in which to explore controversies, promote deeper understanding of information, develop communication skills etc. They are not well suited to conveying large amounts of factual information (handouts are better) or helping one or two students with particular problems (individual tutorials are more appropriate).

b) Prepare a lesson plan.

As for a lecture, plan how to use the time effectively and ensure that you have the necessary material ready. For example, if you intend to conduct a seminar, identify beforehand the key points you think students should grasp and ensure that adequate time is given to each.

c) Be mindful of group dynamics.

Students are sometimes reticent in tutorials because they fear controversy or criticism, so you need to establish a friendly and respectful atmosphere in which ideas can be exchanged. With a new student group it may be a good idea initially to discuss and agree some 'ground rules' for seminar debate.

d) Signpost the discussion.

It sometimes happens that although a lively seminar is enjoyed by the participants, valuable points are lost in the course of it and participants are unclear at the end what has been learned.

It helps therefore if you 'signpost' the discussion as it proceeds: "...yes, that's a fundamental point and that relates back to what was said earlier and that's an issue we will tackle later..."

It also helps if the seminar ends with a summary of the key points that have been made. Remember to allow time for this in your planning.

e) Emphasise the need for preparation.

Although most students accept that they should prepare for tutorials and seminars in order to be able to contribute, experience suggests that this may need reinforcement from time to time.

It helps if you show (not only say) that informed, thoughtful contributions are valued, and point out when preparation would have enhanced the value of someone's contribution.