Tutorial or seminars provide an opportunity to engage more actively with the course content. Guided by the Tutor, smaller classes go through course topics using a variety of activities including discussion, group work, problem solving, student presentations.
In some courses, participation may contribute to course assessment, and usually counts as 5% or 10% of the whole course mark. These marks are not based on your attendance, but on how well you contribute to the tutorials. Participation marks are allotted by tutors, so ask them in the first tutorial how those marks will be distributed. A mix of preparation (reading and answering set questions), amount of participation and insightfulness of comments and questions is a common basis for awarding participation marks. Dominating or disrupting the group may be marked down.
Strategies for contributing to class discussions
It is completely normal to feel a little anxious about speaking up in tutorials, particularly if you are a shy person or not used to expressing your ideas in a group. You may have concerns about saying the 'wrong' thing and offending people, or worried that other people may think that what you say is 'dumb', and will criticise or 'shoot you down' for it. If English is your second language, you might find it difficult to follow what's going on, and are worried that even if you do speak up, your classmates will have trouble understanding you.
Here are some strategies to help you participate:
- Come to class prepared. This will help you to contribute, understand and follow what's going on. It's not necessary to read every word of the set readings but you will need to adopt some reading strategies. As you read look for answers to set questions and for different positions and arguments. Take notes to use in class.
- Start a discussion going and/or keep it going by asking a question - about a key concept, idea or reading for that week, or seek clarification of something that was covered in the lecture. A tutorial can become awkward if no one responds to the tutor's question, or one student makes a statement but no one responds. This can be a frustrating as well as embarrassing experience.
- Participate in non-verbal ways simply by making eye contact with the person speaking and listening carefully to what they have to say. Use your body language (i.e. sit forward, angle your chair towards the tutor) to show that you belong to the group.
- Follow the discussion so that you are prepared to jump in with your contribution. Once you have spoken, you will find that it's not so scary after all! Tutorials are a good way to practice your communication skills and to test that you understand the material.
- The ability to disagree, and be disagreed with, is a key element in the development of critical awareness and the communication of ideas at university. A tutor may challenge students in order to deepen the analysis and strengthen the argument. If you disagree with something you need to give evidence to support your argument. Remember, there is no necessarily 'right' way of thinking.
Sometimes the messages sent are misinterpreted. If you feel upset about a comment, disagreement or criticism, it is important to talk about it, preferably with the tutor.