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Tutorials, workshops, classroom teaching and seminars: small-group learning
and teaching
Students often seem to think that large group sessions are more important than smaller ones - which isn’t necessarily true, as in small groups they can learn a great deal from each other as well as from tutors. That said, in some disciplines, small-group learning in contexts such as studios, performance spaces and laboratories
can clearly be the centre of the learning experience, and lectures may play a less direct role in the student experience, as they are learning by doing. However, in satisfaction surveys, students’ views on lectures tend to be taken more seriously than their views on small group work, and the design of such surveys is often such that it’s the formal large group sessions students think of  rst when giving their feedback. Meanwhile, with continuing institutional drives towards ef ciency and cost effective provision, in some disciplines, small-group teaching has been reduced or even phased out, in favour of big sessions and resource-based or blended learning.
Perhaps, however, the most signi cant reasons for using small
group teaching are the bene ts students acquire which lie beyond the curriculum as expressed through intended learning outcomes; not least the emergent learning outcomes associated with small group work, which help students to equip themselves with skills and attributes they will need for the next stages of their careers - and lives.
SEMINARS, TUTORIALS, WORKSHOPS AND CLASSROOM TEACHING
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably for small-group sessions. However, strictly speaking, a seminar is usually meant to be a student-led small-group session, for example, when one or more students give a short presentation then answer questions and open up discussion on a pre-assigned topic. Here, the tutor’s main responsibility can be as facilitator or chairperson.
Tutorials can come in many shapes and sizes, from one-to-one face-to-face sessions between staff and individual students, to small-group teaching-learning sessions directed largely by tutors, but with a considerable expectation of active learning by students rather than passive ‘sitting and listening’. In some disciplines, tutorials often take the form of problem-classes, where small groups of students work through quantitative problems (either individually or collaboratively) guided by the tutor, and helped-out when necessary.
Workshops tend to be informal interactions often in specialised spaces including studios, practice-based sessions and labs, but can also include problem-classes where the students work individually with the tutor available to provide help and guidance as needed.
Classroom teaching is a portmanteau term covering face-to- face sessions that tend to be smaller in scale than lectures, but can include sessions where lecture-mode is possible (but not necessarily advisable).
WHY DO WE NEED SMALL-GROUP TEACHING?
If small group teaching for some reason had to be discontinued, (or where this has already happened!) the following manifestations could occur:
• Increased drop-out and failure statistics, because students are unlikely to have enough opportunities to gain help with their individual dif culties;
• Increased risk of lecturers remaining unaware of signi cant problems which students are experiencing until it is too late - with problems turned into assessment failures;
• Students would be much less aware of how well (or indeed how badly) their learning was progressing, as they would miss out on contexts allowing them to gain a great deal of feedback from each other;
• More time would need to be used trying to help those students making appointments for one-to one help with particular problems which is often the same problem many times over;
• There could be more interruptions to the  ow of large group teaching, when it would no longer be possible in a lecture to reply to a question “this is just the right sort of question to discuss in detail in your next small-group session - bring it along then and make sure that it is sorted out to your satisfaction”;
• Increased risk of students who succeed satisfactorily in written assessment scenarios, but who haven’t gained
the level of mastery of the subject matter that comes from practising it, discussing it, arguing about it, and explaining it to other people;
• Students would miss out on the opportunity to develop and practise the skills which will enhance their future employability, such as transferable skills connected with teamwork, communication, listening, problem-solving, and developing leadership potential.
HOW STUDENTS SOMETIMES SPOIL SMALL-GROUP WORK
Before we look at what we can do to make small-group teaching work well, it is useful to think about some of the things which can get in the way of small-group learning. Later in this section, we’ll return to some of these in more detail in the ‘what can I do when...?’ section, but for now, let’s just list some of the potential problems, starting with some dif culties which some students can cause us.
1. Some students don’t take it seriously. They often seem to regard lectures as much more important than less formal sessions. This is sometimes our fault - if we don’t seem to be taking small-group teaching as seriously as lectures, students are quick to pick up the vibe.
24 IN AT THE DEEP END | LEARNING + TEACHING academy


































































































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