Kate: Hi Nick, thanks very much for coming over from the School of History.
Nick Thomas, History: That's OK.
Kate: I wanted to ask you about seminars and seminar teaching. What is it you actually want your students to gain from participating in seminars?
Nick: A number of different skills. We look to have students developing a number of different transferable skills and not just "this is how you do history" but also presentation skills, how to discuss issues with each other without dominating.
So the idea of working through different ideas, exchanges of views that allow students to work through problems and get the most out of, say, a single document or a single question or a single debate and get the different viewpoints on that debate.
So the whole discussion process is not about arriving at a yes or no answer, or a right or wrong answer, it's about arriving at different ways of looking at an issue, different ways of looking at a problem. Beyond that, the presentation skills that we try to develop include the use of things like the internet,
the use of different documentary sources, presentation skills, like how to speak in public, how to work with a team of people to create, say, a two hour seminar, how to encourage other people to talk, which is obviously a challenge for students as well as for members of staff.
The idea that students need to be pulling their weight equally as well. So obviously sometimes you get a group with say one student whose just not turning up to meetings before the seminar, and it's up to the students to try and resolve that.
So again the idea that people need to be willing to stand up and be counted and say, "Ok you're not getting away with this." So a variety of different things. It's not just about sitting in a classroom having the finger pointed at you and somebody saying "What do you think of this."
It's very much about active participation, rather than sitting back and letting the lecturer do all the work. It's very much about students taking the lead and discussing it among themselves rather than being told what to think.
Produced: June 2007, in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.