TUTORIALS AND SEMINARS

After the lecture, this is probably the next most widely used teaching method. The distinction between what is a tutorial and what is a seminar is woolly - to some it depends upon size (i.e. ‘a 20 person group cannot be a tutorial as it is too big and is therefore a seminar’) whereas to others the seminar has a different structure (speaker + audience) and different objectives. This last point - objectives - is certainly the most important issue, and it is probably here that most confusion exists in students’ minds (‘what are tutorials for?’), and sometimes in tutors’ minds too. Clarity of objectives is more important for tutorials than for lectures, in that there is general agreement and expectations for lectures whereas there is certainly greater divergence for tutorials.

Much tutorial work is carried out by part-time staff, especially for courses in the first two years, and they too need to be clear about what they are trying to achieve with their students. When asking students about tutorials, the paradoxical finding that they complain about them but ask for more/more frequent tutorials is perhaps closely related to their perception of their need for small group support but lack of clarity about what they should be getting out of what is provided. Making explicit what students should get out of tutorials can be quite a taxing exercise for the course organizer. A new addition to the tutorial format (at least for most students and staff) is that of electronic tutorials via email, sometimes managed in a WWW forum such as Hyper News. Although rather few courses outside those which are traditionally computer-oriented have experimented with these methods, they hold out promise for those courses where students are difficult to bring together or to enable exchanges between face-to-face sessions. The active nature of the tutorial/seminar makes it the main source for students to acquire some of the ‘personal transferable skills’, e.g. in presentation and group work.

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