As I’m sure you remember, at school, teaching was generally done in large classes. Your teacher would explain a certain concept or idea to you and then would set you work to test your understanding of said topic. Sometimes you might be put into smaller groups.
At university, this changes completely. For one thing, depending on your degree, you may be expected to learn more independently. But for another, you will have lectures, seminars and study groups. These will be vastly different to your school classes, so it’s good to know the difference.
A lecture is exactly what it sounds like. One of your professors will speak to you about a chosen subject. Perhaps this will be on Baudrillard’s theory of Simulacra or the Freudian concept of the ego. They will talk to you for an hour or two. Your job is to sit, listen and to take notes. You may have to answer the odd question too, but this differs from lecturer to lecturer.
Don’t note down every single thing you hear. Firstly, this will be impossible to do, as your lecturers will speak more quickly than you can write, and you will miss out on important details.
Instead of writing everything down, bulletpoint what you think are the most important ideas. You could do this by hand or on your laptop. Microsoft Onenote is great for things like this. Just don’t spend the whole lecture on Facebook.
And actually do go to your lectures. Some lectures are filmed and posted online, which may be more tempting, than suffering through a 9am lecture on a Monday morning, but it will hurt you in the long run. In your lectures, you have every opportunity to ask your professor for clarification. You can’t do that for recordings.
A couple of days after your lecture, you will have a smaller and more intimate seminar. Where lectures may have the whole module or year group, seminars are unlikely to have more than fifteen.
Seminars are discussion groups where you can contribute your own ideas about a topic or clarify any misunderstandings you might have. They’ll be led by one of your professors who will suggest a certain theme and then allow you to suggest your own ideas. They want to spark a debate between all of their students. And I mean all of them.
While lectures give a chance for quieter students to sit in the back, you don’t have the same option for seminars. If your professor notices you being quiet, they may pick on you to contribute. But as always, this differs from lecturer and lecturer. Some of them will pick on you. Some of them, if they know you’re shy, will leave you alone.
But if you are worried about speaking up then remember that you will enrich your experience by contributing. Nobody will ever laugh at you and you could spark an interesting discussion. If you’re still nervous about positing any big ideas, then your professor will probably ask some simpler close-ended questions that you can definitely answer.
And lastly, always do the assigned reading. While it might be tempting to Sparknote your way through a book, this is not an alternative to actually reading it. And you will likely have to read some secondary criticism too, which may form part of your seminar discussion.
In your seminars, you will be placed in small study groups. You will be expected to meet up in your own time and complete some questions or work on a project, such as a group presentation.
The good thing about study groups is that they are highly informal and you have no restrictions on where you meet up: in a café, on campus, in somebody’s accommodation. And as they’re more informal, they’re friendlier too. You may feel more comfortable suggesting your ideas and, of course, it’s a great way of making new friends too. You can also ask questions you may have been unable to ask in class.
As study groups don’t always count to your final grade, it’s tempting for students not to meet up at all. It’s common practice for study groups to create a Facebook group, take one question each and then pick one person to combine them all in a word document to submit to your professor. But again, this is no substitute for meeting in person.
Overall, lectures, seminars and study groups are completely different to any teaching you might have had before. Yet they’re all there to aid your own understanding and learning. And you should take full advantage of them.