The problem with seminars – a student perspective

Brittany Brooks- The Brock Press

Brittany Brooks- The Brock Press

Post post-secondary students are familiar with the concept of seminars. They are designed to provide an opportunity to further discuss what is lectured in class and to gain further knowledge on the material. With small groups of people, up to twenty students, seminars allow for different perspectives to be raised on what is being taught in lecture. With the ability to get to know your peers and your TA’s, seminars can be an extremely helpful learning component to any student and student’s should use them to their advantage. Seminars work really well for students when they put in appropriate time and effort. When students are motivated and interested in the course material, seminars can be the perfect aid –– but only if that is the case.

It often isn’t. Seminars have now become something students know they have to attend in order to maintain a certain mark in a course. They have become a learning component that students dread more than find helpful. The concept and use for seminars has been lost among the students because they have become more about something students have to do instead of something that can help them further their knowledge.

From what I’ve noticed seminars tend to be more like giving one-sided presentations instead of being the discussion-based learning environment that it is supposed to be. When students don’t read the material or prepare for the seminar beforehand, it is hard to start discussion on the material that is supposed to take up an hour of seminar. For a student whose presenting, this can be extremely frustrating to deal with; because most of our seminar presentation marks are based on how little talking the presenter does and how much discussing the rest of the class does, this can often hinder a student’s mark, regardless of whether they are the presenter or the audience, and this can make seminars very discouraging for students.

Students are often aware that seminars can affect a huge portion of their grade and for this reason answer questions for the simple sake of keeping their grade up. Rarely have I ever seen a student in one of my seminars answering a question out of pure interest for the subject – it’s mostly just to make sure their mark doesn’t suffer. While seminars are designed for interesting discussion and debate, they have become more of a chore for students than something they can use as an opportunity to gain further knowledge.

Seminars are also usually broken up in different ways in terms of marks for different classes. There are some classes where participation is everything, and there are some that reward students just for their presence. For the latter, there are some students that don’t participate at all – they just show up and know that can be enough sometimes. There are students in these seminars that are happy with their bare-minimum mark and don’t even attempt to do well or be part of the discussions. This again completely defeats the purpose of seminars.

Generally speaking, I believe that the purpose of seminars has been lost among students. If it weren’t for the marks they would lose, the participation grades they would miss and that whopping 20 per cent of their grade shadowing seminars, there is a good chance that those tiny little rooms would be emptier than usual. Even considering those students that show up every week whether it be at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m, that perfect attendance usually reflects the need for an A in the course, not pure interest in what the seminar will be teaching. By spending every week watching another one of your students nervously present and silently pray for your participation, taking a look around the room would probably just show you this – students watching the clock, trying their hardest to find a simple question to answer, and all in all just waiting for the hour to be over.

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One thought on “The problem with seminars – a student perspective

  1. Even then I can immediately identify Brock grads at public meetings. Permanently stuck on participation, usually without bringing paperwork.

    The seminar system was created to improve understanding and encourage collaborative learning. Instead it often breaks down into an opinion roundtable.

    More facts. Less opinions.

    (An opinion column seems like the best place to post this comment)

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