What is the difference between tutorials, seminars and lectures?

posted in: Blog, Student Problems, Teaching 0

A tutorial is where you meet a lecturer either for a one-to-one session or as a small group, usually either in the lecturer’s office or a seminar room. You will probably have to read something to prepare for the tutorial and be prepared to discuss it. Lecturers know that students often find it hard to speak up even in small groups.

A tutorial is a great opportunity to get to know other students and to ask your tutor about the course.

A seminar is like a larger scale tutorial. You’ll have 1 lecturer and anywhere up to 30 students (sometimes a few more on popular courses). Seminars can take different forms and may include students doing presentations on set topics; lecturers giving mini lectures; study questions being set so that students can discuss them in a large group. They are much less formal than lectures and designed to give you time to discuss texts and deepen your understanding of the topics at hand and the course itself.

Lectures usually take place in large lecture theatres which may hold 300 students or so. You will generally find the whole year group gathered for that lecture so the size of lecture room will be determined to some extent by the size of your year group. If there are only 30 of you then you may find that a seminar room is used.

In lectures students sit as an audience and the lecturer talks to them, usually for 50 minutes or so, perhaps with some visual aids such as overheads, video clips or Powerpoint etc.

Lecturers may ask questions and some brave students may answer but as a rule the lecturer lectures (ie talks about the text / topic) and students listen and take notes (in an ideal world).

Students often feel nervous about entering a lecture theatre and there is a natural tendency to sit at the back. Sitting at the back gives you the reassuring feeling that the lecturer won’t notice you because you’re as far away as possible. Sorry to burst the bubble here but every lecture theatre I’ve lectured in has given me a terrific view of all of the students :-).

Sit wherever you feel most comfortable (or least uncomfortable!) but make sure that you can see any screens where information may be displayed and ensure that you can hear the lecturer.

Focusing for 50 minutes (most lectures are approximately 50 minutes long) is difficult at first but it is good to train yourself to be able to concentrate and note-taking is a really useful skill.

Please remember that the lecturer is not there to entertain you. Most will try to make things interesting and may well be humorous at times – it’s one way of keeping the audience engaged and therefore open to learning. If you find your lecturer interesting and at times entertaining then that’s a bonus. Your lecturer is there to teach, not to entertain.