Kate: How to help students effectively prepare for seminars bearing in mind that there's this wide set of skills which we want them to develop?
Nick Thomas, History: I think it depends on the format, and I think it depends on how the seminars are done. Certainly the seminars that I run, there are a number of different issues that we try and resolve through different methods. So, for instance, the layout of the room so the rooms are not done in a confrontational way. So this is kind of about not just the preparation but how that preparation is going to be used.
So we have small groups, we have quite large seminar groups of, say, twenty or even thirty people. But they are then divided up in the room into small groups of five or six people, so it takes the confrontational aspect out of things immediately. We then do a variety of different methods in the seminar which encourage people to talk, even if their preparation's fairly minimal.
So that we'll use, say, large bits of paper where people can put their ideas on them, they stand up and say what the group has come up with as a whole. Or we'll get people to look at a document, for instance. They don't need to prepare to do that, they can just look at the document that's been brought in to the seminar.
Obviously, if they're prepared in terms of reading beforehand, that's going to enhance their enjoyment of the seminar, they're going to get more out of it. In order to do that we have quite extensive reading lists, for instance, and that includes documentary sources and includes secondary sources.
Students are encouraged to look at individual debates, so I'll give a number, quite a large number, of questions that are going to be looked at in the seminars. People know beforehand what questions are going to be asked in the seminar or debates that are going to be covered.
People can then go and look at the reading for those debates, spend time looking at those secondary or primary sources, and come prepared in the seminar for those particular questions.
Produced: June 2007, in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.