Participating in discussion

Seminars can be daunting if you don't feel confident talking about a particular topic. However, you are not expected to know all the answers. There is some preparation involved, but this is the starting point for a discussion, and it is these interactions between you and your classmates where valuable learning takes place.

Discussion as learning

Sometimes we just put too much pressure on ourselves to always get things right.

– Barkha Aghicha, Senior Student Writing Mentor

Seminars provide you with a space where you can clarify and express your thoughts, ask questions about assignments and key concepts, and engage with other students’ perspectives. Attending seminars regularly helps you to stay motivated and up to date with your weekly topics and readings. It also helps to remind you that other students experience the same highs, the same lows, and have the same fears, doubts and questions.

In this video, Deakin student mentors talk about their experiences participating in seminar discussions and they also provide a few tips for any students who may be feeling nervous.

The best way to prepare for a seminar is to do the reading beforehand and come prepared with some questions or comments that you would like to make. Remember, you are not expected to have all of the answers – it is a discussion, not a test.

Some common seminar activities you might encounter during your course include:

  • Reviewing the week’s readings so you can discuss a set of questions as a group
  • Sharing ideas and responses from that week’s class
  • Working through a problem to find a group solution
  • Debating an issue
  • Reflecting on personal experiences or a professional placement
  • Participating in role play – where you are given a scenario and a small group has to act out a response, e.g. as a teacher, nurse, patient, client, employer
  • Delivering an oral presentation
  • Planning a groupwork assignment.

In this video, Deakin lecturers provide some further tips on participating in seminar discussions.

Effective communication

Speaking up doesn’t mean saying the perfect thing.

– Juliet Austin, School of Education

Being an effective communicator is an important skill for your studies, and your professional and personal life. Seminars provide the perfect opportunity to develop confidence in talking about your course content, but also general skills in group discussion, negotiation, debate, and participating in group work activities. Students do not arrive at Uni with all of these skills, but with practice you can graduate with much stronger communication skills.

At university, you will study with people from a range of different backgrounds, which in fact mirrors the Australian workplace. You can learn a lot by engaging with students who have had different life experiences to yourself. For this reason, it is a good idea to move outside your comfort zone and talk to students you have not spoken to before.

Observation and preparation

By observing behaviours in group discussions, you will be able to notice what works and what doesn’t work, thereby developing and enhancing your own communication skills. Reflect on your own strengths in this area and also where you might need to improve.

  • Do you come to seminars well prepared?
  • Are you reluctant to speak up in seminars?
  • Do you normally talk more in discussions or do you listen more?
  • Do you allow others the space to contribute?

Here is a list of behaviours that can help students contribute to a positive and constructive seminar or group discussion:

  • Arrive well prepared (e.g. readings, notes, questions)
  • Take time to listen to others
  • Show some understanding that some students find it difficult to speak in public
  • Take the lead in being positive and supportive of other students
  • Communicate regularly, even if only to ask a question or ask for clarification
  • Make eye contact with others in the room, and in particular with the speaker
  • Respect different opinions, perspectives and experiences
  • Offer constructive criticism – that is, criticism that has a clear, valid purpose in the discussion
  • Suggest alternatives or point to evidence when disagreeing, rather than simply rejecting another person’s ideas.

Below are some characteristics of productive and counter-productive behaviours that can take place during discussions. How many of these have you observed in your seminars? Don’t wait for others to make the seminar a better learning space. What can you do to make your seminar more productive?

Productive Counter productive
  • Give other students your full attention
  • Ask for or provide information
  • Ask for or provide responses
  • Ask or answer questions
  • Allow others to take turns
  • Restate ideas from readings
  • Restate ideas from other students
  • Offer constructive critical feedback
  • Ask or provide further evidence or examples
  • Ask the group to refocus on the topic
  • Encourage and support other students’ ideas
  • Elaborate on others' ideas
  • Remain silent
  • Dominate the discussion
  • Interrupt other students
  • Ignore other students’ contributions
  • Criticise or undermine other students
  • Frequently change the topic
  • Make comments not relevant to the topic
  • Apologise for your own opinion
  • Use your mobile when others are speaking

Staying engaged

Many students say that contributing to group discussions is very challenging – but there is far more to gain by speaking up. Important learning takes place through asking questions and by participating in discussion, both in and out of class. Don’t let your course be a lonely journey! Build your own support networks by:

  • attending as many classes and seminars as possible
  • asking your lecturer, tutor and classmates questions
  • preparing for and getting actively involved in seminar discussions
  • using the discussion boards in your unit site.

This will allow you to hear a wide a variety of opinions on the issues being raised in the classes and readings, and allows for you to better prepare and contribute your own opinions, thoughts and questions. Here are some further activities that might help you to build confidence in talking in seminars.

Talk to your classmates

  • Have a chat with your classmates before or after class (face to face or online).
  • Get to know your classmates better – invite them out for a drink!
  • Share any questions or concerns you might have about the unit.

Start a study group

  • Start a formal or informal study group with your classmates. Book a Library meeting room or other study space.
  • You can also start an online study group and meet at an agreed time for one hour each week. Set up a Skype for Business appointment via your Deakin Outlook calendar and invite other students.
  • Start an informal study group on social media.

Talk to a student mentor

Enhance your communication skills

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