Students are expected to participate actively in group discussion. Thinking about what would enable all students to meet this expectation is the key to creating more inclusive seminars.
- Do you explain the purpose of the seminar, and appropriate learning behaviour to students, who may be unfamiliar with an educational style that encourages debate and the expression of individual ideas?
- Is attendance compulsory? What alternative exists for students who can’t participate eg for a disability-related reason (mental health condition, problems with physical stamina) or because a seminar clashes with a major religious festival.
- Consider what kind of participation you require eg could a student who finds it difficult to make a spoken presentation prepare a discussion paper for circulation?
- How will you provide sensitive reassurance and support for students who are worried about giving a presentation? They can be stressful for those who are lack confidence and experience.
- How will you identify previous knowledge, or the lack of it? eg by a few exploratory questions. Be aware of those who are not brave enough to speak up, and check their knowledge, possibly by observation of their body language, their notes or their work. Remember that lack of knowledge is a consequence of the student’s prior educational experience, not a sign of stupidity.
- How will you help develop students’ academic language skills?
- Re-arrange room according to needs of students. See Room layout.
- Consider how you will provide all resources in advance in accessible format. This may include texts, on-line resources, WebCT, visual material, audio material.
- Consider what additional technology may be needed for students to access material during the lecture eg pc with specialist assistive software.
- See Making handouts and OHPs accessible .
- Consider how a student will use material eg a student may be able to read a sheet printed in Braille, but will not be able to complete it without further equipment.
- Consider how to make work presented by peers accessible.
Role of chairperson
- Make sure people speak one at a time, and if you think they were not clear or audible repeat what they said.
- If you think people are having difficulty understanding, rephrase, rather than repeat.
- Write unfamiliar terminology on a flipchart or OHP and spell it out.
- Do you allow enough time for students to respond? eg students using support workers or those whose first language is not English may take a little longer.
- How do you ensure that the discussion is not hijacked by one or two individuals?
- A useful strategy to give students confidence to contribute, is to first give them time to write down a response on a piece of paper, then get them to share it with a partner, before being asked to share it with the whole class.
- Recognise the contribution of each individual, and encourage students to learn from each other.
- Challenge any offensive language (if other students don’t).
- Consider breaks. It is tiring to lipread or follow a sign-language interpreter for a continuous period. British Sign Language interpreters‘ union rules require a rest every hour.
- Check understanding, by giving students ‘permission’ to admit problems. Instead of “Right, does everyone understand?” try “Now, who is still a little unclear on this?”
Supporting disabled students
- Disabled students may have particular needs in seminars. Tutors should discuss beforehand with individual disabled students whether their disability will have an impact on their experience of seminars, and whether they want to inform the rest of the class.
- Consider what would help students with a particular disability eg a student with a visual impairment might appreciate it if everyone in the room introduced themselves and if the seminar leader verbalised when people left or entered the room; a deaf student might appreciate a visual indication of a new speaker.
- Have you chosen a topic that will be enriched by contributions from students from different backgrounds?
- Have you considered breaking the session up into a set of connected activities?
- Do you allow some flexibility about presentation formats? This may make it easier for disabled students to contribute, and will support a greater range of preferred learning styles.
- The seminar can be a good opportunity to develop academic skills, such as selective reading strategies (eg how to prioritise a reading list) and critical and analytical strategies (eg how texts interconnect, how to evaluate them, how to make notes).
Recording the discussion
- Use a PC and data projector to show key points – you can then save this and put it on your web pages. This can also help a disabled student with poor spoken language to contribute points.
- Seek student feedback on the seminars and use this to improve them.
- Centre for Academic Development - provides support for any student in study skills, maths or statistics. They provide 1:1 tutorials, drop-in sessions, and take-away advice. Email email@example.com.
- Inclusive Support Service - for advice and guidance on disability and dyslexia/SpLD support available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01865 (48)4640
- Faculty Equal Opportunities & Diversity Coordinator