|Several researchers in the UK have
gathered evidence of student perspectives on their experiences in small group teaching.
Some examples are as follows:
- "I personally have a greater influence
on what is being discussed. I can actually remember and feel I understand what we are
discussing. By being in a smaller group, one feels part of the class rather than just
another face in a sea of faces. I actually feel more part of the university".
- "If you read about it (small group
teaching), it sounds very good. Some people every week go into a room and talk about the
previous week's lectures. It sounds great, but when you actually come to do it you sit
around without saying anything, and the seminar leader isn't quite sure how to get them
started anyway; and this carries on for about thirty weeks; and you begin to think it's
not such a good idea".
- "Getting to know the lecturer better,
rather than being part of a crowd in a lecture room, taking copious notes from a lecture
that has obviously been given many times before. It (small group teaching) can actually be
enjoyable. Lectures rarely are".
- "The seminars are a waste of time.
Nobody seems to know what we are supposed to be doing, including the tutor who teaches a
different course normally. We don't know what the seminar topic means or what preparation
we are supposed to have done so no-one does anything".
- "You don't know many people. OK there's
the people in the seminar group but there's no way you can get to know everybody. I mean
(turns to a student in the group) I've never seen you before".
- "It would be nice to ask questions
occasionally but the size of the group makes this embarrassing".
- "There's too much variance in one
module between tutors. With one they might say: 'Right, you've got to have this essay in
on this day' and the next one 'OK you're supposed to have it in by this day, but if you
don't, you can give it to me tomorrow' or 'That's not relevant to the course, you don't
have to do it if you don't want to'".
- "Staff hardly get to know most students
and vice versa. Construction of any sort of relationship is therefore impossible".
- "The shyer students, who might have the
confidence to contribute in small groups, tend to keep quiet in large ones".
- "Room allocation for seminars is not
always appropriate. A seminar in a large lecture room does not produce a good learning
- "In some classes it's just like another
lecture really. Someone asks a question and off he goes again. I haven't asked a question
- "It's really intimidating in the
seminars. You've got to stand up in front of all these people you don't really know. There
are a couple who seem to revel in it and we just let them get on with it and keep our
From these one can
see what students see as important and rewarding. Note, however, that the students said
that seminars can be enjoyable and rewarding, for, as we all know, seminars can
also be excruciating and the tutor ends up doing all the talking. In a doctoral
dissertation on seminar work across six faculties in a UK university in the 1980s,
Patricia Partington discovered some interesting information about seminars in the
Humanities and Social Sciences.
Percentages of Tutor
and Student Talk in Humanities and Social Science Seminars
| Subject Area
| Industrial Economics
| Applied Social Science
| French Literature
||Tutor lectures, explains, narrates
||Tutor responds to student comment
||Students respond to tutor comments
||Students volunteer information
Clearly, seminars are not
always about students discussing a topic.