While COVID-19 has impacted on-campus learning lectures and seminars are still taking place online. Discover how to make the most of this valuable contact time

What are lectures and seminars?

Lectures introduce you to the main topics on your course. For many degrees, this involves up to three hours of teaching per module, per week, split across one or two sessions. Lectures involve very little direct interaction between lecturer and student - often based around a slideshow presentation; they're typically given to large groups of students in a theatre setting.

Attendance is usually compulsory and, for some courses, vital in completing a module. Although presentation-led lectures may be uploaded online afterwards, you'll gain a much better understanding of the content by attending and having it explained to you.

Seminars are the interactive accompaniment to lectures. You'll be encouraged to apply your knowledge of the lecture content and additional reading to complete group work, participate in discussions and ask your tutor questions.

These sessions are held in smaller groups, typically in a classroom setting. For each module you'll be required to attend a one hour seminar per week to consolidate and evaluate the lecture material.

How should I prepare?

Preparation for lectures and seminars is the key to a successful degree. Being well prepared will empower you to contribute, and help you avoid feeling lost and overwhelmed.

This includes knowing exactly where and when your lectures will be. Check your university email account in advance of sessions, as lecturers use this mode of communication to let you know about any additional preparation, as well as to notify you of room changes, rescheduling and cancellations. It's a good idea to send push notifications to your phone.

While completing the suggested preliminary reading is important, don’t look into the lecture topic in too much depth beforehand. You research might lead you in a different direction to what your lecturer feels is important and this can complicate your understanding.

Gaining a basic idea of concepts and theories before your lecture will make you feel confident and prepared but try to go to lectures with an open mind.

When it comes to seminars the first rule of preparation is to attend your lectures. You'll struggle to participate in seminars or understand discussion topics without doing so.

You then need to revisit your lecture notes, collect your thoughts, identify areas you'd like to go over in the seminar and prepare questions to ask, while the content is still fresh in your mind.

You'll be assigned additional reading and tasks to complete ahead of the seminar which, as well as your existing lecture notes, count towards your seminar preparation. These materials include a variety of thoughts and opinions around a particular topic, and are designed to engage your critical thinking skills.

How should I act during lectures and seminars?

While tempting, don't write down everything that's said in your lectures - you may miss out on important information while writing down something minor. Lecturers will often provide handouts or upload presentation slides after the lecture, so spend the session listening and jotting down only the most important words and phrases.

Lectures are designed to introduce topics and provide new information, which can be a lot to take in - don't hesitate to ask questions if the opportunity arises. Alternatively, your lecturers will be happy to stay behind afterwards - or arrange a meeting on another day - to discuss anything you're struggling with.

To get the most out of your lectures, use your contact hours wisely. Don't become sidetracked by using them as social events - stay focused on what you're being taught. Sitting in the front row, for instance, makes it harder to chat to friends and you're unlikely to be distracted by latecomers.

As seminars are held with the aim of kick-starting discussions, be vocal and raise any interesting points or thoughts you have - participation is key to making these sessions worthwhile so speak up.

Try not to feel nervous - the relaxed seminar environment and small attendee numbers are designed to boost your confidence and ultimately enhance your learning. By getting involved, you'll enrich your understanding of the content and may even learn something new from hearing the different perspectives of your classmates. Group work and group assignments are often a feature of seminars - discover three tips for successful group work.

As you would after a lecture, you should revisit your seminar notes while you're still switched on. Adding any thought-provoking points that were raised in discussion to your will come in handy for giving your future assignments more depth, and generally improving your understanding of the topic.

How do I get the best out of online lectures and seminars?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic most students are now familiar with studying from home. As we start 2021 with a national lockdown universities have moved their programme of teaching online and it’s likely that institutions will continue to utilise virtual learning for some time.

'While studying from home has become the 'new norm' it presents new and different challenges that haven't previously been thought of,' says Ruki Heritage, director of student experience at the University of Bedfordshire.

So how do you make the most of online lectures and seminars? Firstly you should grant them the same importance as those held in person. Studying from home gives you more flexibility but that doesn't mean you should skip this vital contact time.

You prepare for, and participate in, virtual lectures and seminars the same way you would in-person classes. It's not enough to just log on and listen. You need to do the required reading, take effective notes, ask questions and review what you’ve learned afterwards.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Get your tech set up. Lectures and seminars can last for one hour or more so where possible use a computer or laptop rather than your phone. To fully participate your device will need a working camera and microphone. Also check that you have a stable internet connection.
  • Choose a suitable space to work. Ideally this will be conductive to learning, free from distractions. Using headphones blocks out background noise and helps you to concentrate.
  • Some online lectures will be live, while others may be pre-recorded. Draw up a timetable of live lectures for the week and attend each one. Be aware that your schedule may differ from the one you followed on campus. Watch pre-recorded lectures as soon as they become available - this way you'll avoid having a backlog of unwatched material to catch up on. 'Some classes will be interactive and you will be expected to comment, contribute and share thoughts,' explains Ruki. 'Others will be more about receiving knowledge. Understanding the expectations of the session will reduce stress and allow you to prepare appropriately.'
  • During live lectures and seminars remember to mute your microphone when others are talking to avoid disrupting them. This also minimises audio feedback. Behave appropriately and be mindful of when others can see or hear you. 'I would advise against simply speaking out in a session if this has not been requested, as classes may have hundreds of students, so having a free for all may well break up the session and cause it to overrun or not cover everything planned,' says Ruki. 'If your lecturer asks for questions at the end, keep a sheet of paper to one side and write down any questions you have.'
  • Discover whether and how you can slow down the lecture or pause it in order to make more detailed notes.
  • Find out where recordings will be saved. The beauty of online lectures and seminars is that you can re-watch them if you need to.
  • Just like you would if you were on campus discuss the lecture or seminar with your peers. Go over any points you're struggling with, debate differing opinions and talk through the assignments set. This can be done on online discussion boards, by setting up a group WhatsApp or through a Microsoft Teams or Zoom call. Ruki also encourages you to join any informal/non-mandatory sessions. 'Some classes will have break out rooms after a session to discuss content. This may be with other students and not lecture driven. Don't see these as extras or optional. These are great opportunities to unpick a subject with peers and get a deeper understanding of it, but they're also a chance to meet other students.' Joining clubs and societies is still important too. 'It may feel slightly unusual to begin with, but you can actually attend society events remotely. Get involved and contribute. The more you put in, the more you get out,' explains Ruki.
  • Speak up if it's not working. Virtual learning is a new experience for lecturers too. If you don't think the lecture content is engaging enough tell them. Suggest methods that might help you to participate more such as polls, quizzes or opening the comment or chat box to encourage discussion. 'Your lecturer may well have an open door time to meet with students virtually one-to-one. If you're really struggling, react immediately. Don't suffer in silence. Contact your tutor, book a one-to-one, or see if your university has a study skills team,' adds Ruki. Learn more about managing student stress.
  • Be kind to yourself. 'You will have occasions that your broadband goes down or your laptop stops working,' says Ruki.  'Accept that sometimes things go wrong despite your best efforts. Remember, most sessions will have slides and notes available that you can catch up on.'

Find more tips on studying from home.

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