Seminar Participation: How to Contribute Effectively

“No-one’s spoken for a really long time, how can I get a discussion going?” 

“I think this person has a great idea, but doesn’t seem very confident in it – I wonder how I can help?” 

“I really disagree with what that person said, but I don’t want to sound rude…maybe I just shouldn’t say anything…” 

 Sometimes you know what you want to do in a seminar, but you’re just not sure how to do it. It’s easy to spend so much time wondering how to contribute that you miss your opportunity to do so altogether. Or you might find yourself so worried about doing the wrong thing that you end up not doing anything at all!   

Although there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to participate in seminars, there are some approaches that you may find more effective than others. You’ll likely find that throughout your time at university you’ll gradually develop your own approaches to seminar participation that work for you. But it can also be useful to have a couple of strategies to fall back on when you’re not sure what to do or if you’re still new to seminar participation. 

The key thing to remember is that, although you might find yourself gravitating towards a particular ‘role’ or set of strategies, you’re not limited to these. In a previous post we thought about Speculating, Enabling and Challenging, and we should keep in mind that these are just behaviours not types of people. So feel free to try out different roles and approaches depending on what you need from the seminar and how comfortable you’re feeling on the day.   

If you want to find out more, you can follow this link to hear Academic Skills Tutor Nicky build on the Speculating, Enabling and Challenging framework we looked at last time and provide some strategies for how you can effectively enact these behaviours. 

You can also book a 1-1 appointment with the Academic Skills Team if you’d like some more tailored guidance on seminar participation or other academic skills. 

And stay tuned for more videos on seminar participation. Next up we’ll be looking at some strategies for dealing with unhelpful seminar participation. 

New video – online academic communication!

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

“Should I say something?”

“What am I expected to say?”

 “Is that the ‘right’ answer?”

 “Does this sound clever enough?”

Academic discussions can be tricky to navigate at the best of times. Add to that unfamiliar environments like webinars or discussion boards and figuring out the best way to communicate with coursemates and teaching staff can become a real headache!

If this sounds familiar, then you might want to check out the WDC’s latest video ‘Communicating Online in an Academic Context’ where we talk through some of these difficulties and offer possible strategies for dealing with them.

Communicating in the online academic environment

Typing on a laptop

With the sudden move to online learning, you may find yourself having a lot more academic discussions online. This might cause some uncertainty about how to communicate appropriately in this strange new space – the ‘online academic environment’.

Listen to Nicky, one of our WDC tutors, talk about some of the potential difficulties associated with communicating online in an academic context and offer some strategies for addressing them. You can also find this information and more in text form on the Academic Skills Kit

Dr Nicky Gardiner, one of the WDC tutors
Dr Nicky Gardiner

New Youtube series: You Ask the WDC!

We know many students have questions about learning in these suddenly uncertain times, and we’re here to help you develop and adapt your study strategies and academic skills to meet these challenges. The current situation is unprecedented – we wish we could tell you how it’s all going to work out, but the truth is, we’re all figuring it out as we go. The good news is, the WDC tutors are experts in learning, and in listening to students to help you find ways of working that will work for you.

To that end, we’ve launched a new video series on Youtube – our Academic Agony Aunts (and Uncle) are here to answer your academic skills queries! in You Ask the WDC, we respond to some of the most common issues you’re raising, whether it’s about remote study, online assessment, or even just a good old fashioned study skills question.

Check out the first videos on our Youtube channel!

Got a question? Submit it here!

Active Independent Learning

Learning remotely and online can present new challenges, or just put a strain on your existing learning strategies. You might be finding that you’re being provided with a lot of learning materials such as powerpoint slides, video, readings or handouts. What do you do with all this material, and how can you make sure you’re learning effectively rather than just staring at your screen, with nothing really going in?

Listen to Helen, one of our tutors, suggesting a few strategies to ensure that you’re actively engaging with learning materials and getting the most out of them.

Dr Helen Webster, WDC
Dr Helen Webster, WDC

Time Management Tips for Troubled Times: Structure and Routine

Photo by Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

Term might be starting again, but it’s not always going to be possible to carry on as normal, when things really aren’t normal. If you’re able to, you might find it helpful to create a bit of routine to stay motivated and regain some control. This is the third in our series of Time Management Tips for Troubled Times, in which we explore Time and Space to help you get back a bit of normality in your day!


Without the full structured timetable of campus learning, your day can become a bit shapeless. Some teaching will still be synchronous (everyone participating at the same time), but much may move to ‘asynchronous’ where participants engage with the learning activities and resources at different times, so it’s more up to you when you study.

  • You might find that keeping to a similar schedule as your normal studying week is helpful, if that’s possible. You don’t have the commute, so you can get up a little later, but a routine that starts with setting the alarm and getting up, and getting on with learning as soon as possible, might work for you. Take regular breaks, stop work at a specific time, like 5pm, and keep bedtimes regular too!
  • You might find that a regular schedule is not possible for you, however. Instead, you might build in structured elements into your day, for example, a set number ‘blocks’ of work of a couple of hours (or more, or less, as works for you), to be fitted into each day where possible. 
  • Make sure you get down to a study task as soon as possible when you start work– you might find it helps to make it fairly small and specific, and easy to do – something like re-reading notes from the day before, or answering three emails, and perhaps decide what it’s going to be the night before.
  • Far-off deadlines are not motivating. Set smaller deadlines which are closer in time and more frequent. This could be the date by which you want to achieve or finish a task, or a time by which you want to move on to a different phase of work ie from reading to writing, or from exploratory thinking to deciding what you want to focus on. 
  • Build in cycles where you revisit learning, especially if you have exams to revise for so you can build up your memory, but also if you’re writing an assignment, to check your planning and original reading. This helps deepen your learning and keep a focused direction. Revisit it after a day, three days, a week, two weeks etc. 
  • If ‘work expands to fill the time available’, meaning that it seems to take forever, then try factoring in some time to do other things first –whether they are urgent priorities such as daily chores or something more pleasant, like exercise. Once part of your day is earmarked for those, your studies will have to fit around them, meaning that you’re likely to be more productive when you do work as time is more scarce.


Going into uni for the day clearly marked study from leisure time. When you’re spending all your time at home, making that clear distinction is going to be harder, but if you can find a way to mark ‘study’ from ‘other’ time physically or symbolically, it will help. 

  • You might be lucky enough to have a room that you can keep purely for learning, and turn it into a ‘study’. Make sure you close the door on it for the day, and decide how many hours is a reasonable amount of time to work, for you. 
  • You might be able to repurpose a part of a room such as like the dining table or a corner of the living room and set it up as your dedicated workspace so you’re in ‘work mode’ when seated there. Consider how to ensure your workspace is comfortable to sit at for longer periods, and how to keep distractions to a minimum, whether it’s moving temptations like your phone or displacement activities like laundry into another room, or negotiating times when other household members can’t expect your attention.
  • You might need to negotiate with others in your household to commandeer a suitable space temporarily for periods of the day. You could agree times to suit your best times of day for working (possibly a number of shorter periods might help you take breaks, rather than one longer period). Consider how you might set up your space for this period to create a working environment, even temporarily, whether that’s removing distractions where possible or using ‘props’ to create a focused atmosphere which you associate with study, such as particular music or background noise, a scented candle, or something that reminds you of your uni environment.  
  • You might have very limited space, for example if you’re living in a study bedroom. Where at all possible, avoid working in bed, as this might impair your sleep, which in turn will impact on your ability to study and cope with other things. If you can set up a different corner of your space for study, even for part of the day, you might use cues such as objects that remind you of uni, getting dressed in ‘work’ clothes, or particular music or other background sounds that create a different environment. 
  • If you have some flexibility over where you work, you might try moving around during the day – writing at the kitchen table in the morning, reading and taking notes in the living room during the afternoon, for example. This might help recharge up your energy levels and the variety might help keep you focused. 
  • If you are living with others who also need to work, whether this is study or working from home, you might find it’s helpful to work together to keep each other momentum and motivation. You could even organize this remotely with coursemates elsewhere through a virtual study group. 

Rather listen to an audio version? Here’s our tutor Helen talking you through some of these tips:

Dr Helen Webster, WDC
Dr Helen Webster, WDC

Time Management Tips for Troubled Times: Getting going again

Your Easter break may not have been the one you were planning (although we hope the Easter Bunny brought you some chocolate) but there’s no doubt we all needed a bit of a rest after all the upheaval and disruption we’ve been through. It’s still the vacation, although you might find your thoughts turning to the new term – work you still need to complete, assessments you might need to prepare for – or just wondering what the new term will be like, studying remotely. If you’ve had to move home to study, been unwell or had to take some time out to focus on other urgent priorities, you might be finding it particularly hard to know where to start or how to get going again. 

Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

The WDC has had a good think about how we can help you with picking up and getting going with your studies again in what are most certainly challenging circumstances. We didn’t want to trot out the usual smug tips on organising your time, but thought hard about the things you might be facing, and how we can help you be compassionate with yourself, doing the best you can. Below is the first in our series of Time Management Tips for Troubled Times – you’ll find more on the ASK website!

  • The main thing is to make a start, less so where to start. Make your first step small so it feels do-able, whether it’s just digging out your module or programme handbook or any other information you need, or filtering through your emails or BlackBoard notifications to pick out important communications about changes to teaching and assessment, or assignment deadlines (maybe just a week’s worth if there has been a deluge of them!). Even just logging on might help you feel back in the swing a little. 
  • Figure out first if there are any priorities you need to be aware of such as assessment. Your lecturer may have posted these already, but you could also check with friends on your course or contact your module leader if you’re uncertain or concerned. 
  • You might have several modules or assignments competing for your attention. Does one of them have a more urgent deadline, or is there one you feel more behind with?
  • You might begin by going back to your module handbook and any other information about the module to refresh your memory about its learning outcomes, topics covered already and those yet to be covered. You could gently review work you’ve already done, lecture notes, ReCap recordings or past assignments just to familiarize yourself again with the topic, activate that learning again and remind yourself that you do know things! Don’t see this as revision or worry if you can’t remember details, you’re just refreshing your sense of it and reactivating your memory.
  • If you feel you’ve missed a lot of content, you might just watch any video content for each week to get a sense of what’s been covered, rather than working through all of each week in turn. You can then go back and undertake any activities that have been set, or pursue any reading, for previous weeks. This will even help you synthesise your understanding across the module so far, getting a better overview to help make connections and prioritise.
  • Try doing a bit of freewriting to get back in the flow, either to warm up for writing or just to get your thoughts moving again. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write, as a stream of consciousness without stopping, whatever comes to mind about the studies you’re picking up again, and see what comes out.

No time to read? Listen to our tutor Helen talking you through these tips.

Dr Helen Webster, WDC
Dr Helen Webster, WDC