What is a Seminar?
Seminars are small, interactive group discussions that are led by your lecturer or another staff member. Students might complete group tasks, discuss key lecture themes, or debate particular topics. In seminars, students have the opportunity to expand and apply their knowledge of lecture content and readings.
That’s why seminars are considered to be an interactive companion to lectures. Students can ask further questions on key debates or topics. This kind of active learning can make it easier for students to prepare for assignments or exams, and learn to think more critically. But, why do we need lectures and seminars?
Lectures vs. Seminars
Lectures are delivered to large groups of students who listen and take notes. The main purpose of a lecture is to introduce students to the main topics and learning material. Lectures are necessary and important part of university learning, however, they are not very interactive.
Seminars encourage students to interact and engage with lecture content in smaller groups. This allows students to learn from each other, speak to their lecturer, and actively think about the lecture content. For some courses, seminar participation forms part of your final grade. This might be in the form of a pass/fail or as part of an assessment, such as a report or presentation using the seminar topic.
Benefits of Effective Seminar Notes
In seminars, students can extract a lot of value using effective notetaking. Seminars can:
- Help you prepare for assignments and exams
- Provide alternative points of view and critical discussion points
- Encourage an active and engaging learning experience (rather than passive listening!)
- Give you answers to questions you haven’t thought of yet
- Help you clarify and deepen your understanding of the material with support from peers and lecturers
- Encourage you to complete readings and lecture notes early so you can contribute
- Allow you to ask questions about content you find confusing or want to explore further
Your seminar notes will be the place where you capture all this valuable and important information. Below, we’ll share how you can take effective seminar notes, and make the most of those all-important discussions.
How to Take Effective Seminar Notes
In seminars, students need to listen, refer to readings or lecture content, participate, and take notes. This requires more effort than notetaking during lectures - which can be a challenge too sometimes. You can take effective notes during seminars using the five tips we’ve outlined below.
Prepare in Advance for Seminars
Seminar preparation can stop you from feeling lost or overwhelmed during the seminar. Good preparation can empower you to contribute with confidence and ask valuable questions.
Lecture Notes and Summaries
Lecture material is often the foundation of seminar discussions. Be sure to attend lectures and catch up on material for any missed lectures. Seminars can take place straight after a lecture, or days later. In some cases, graded seminars might take place after a series of lectures. That’s why it’s important to keep up to date with the material and have a general understanding of the key topics. You can create lecture note summaries to take to seminar discussions or to use for a quick review.
Lecturers will sometimes assign reading material for seminars. This might be a paper from your module reading list or something new. If specific reading is assigned, it’s important to complete this before the seminar. The seminar discussion will revolve around this key reading so it’s essential to prioritise your preliminary seminar readings.
You can note down key points or issues from the reading material. This can help you to grasp the basic concepts or theories. It’s okay if you find something difficult to understand or link to your lecture content. In the seminar, you can share these thoughts will a smaller group. Being able to point out these things shows the lecturer that you came prepared for the seminar.
Critical Thinking and Reading
For some seminars, lectures might assign more in-depth preparatory work. Especially if the seminar is graded or will include a follow-up assignment. This could be more reading material or critical reading tasks, such as preparing questions or your thoughts and opinions. You might be expected to think about a particular debate, concept, or theory.
Make sure to engage with these tasks! This gives you a chance to think about the topic in advance. Instead of trying to prepare on your own, you can use this task as a prompt. This can be helpful guidance where there’s a lot of lecture material and potential discussion points.
Seminar Preparation with Genei
Genei, a research tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI), can streamline your seminar preparation. Students can use genei to read, annotate, and take notes using the power of AI. Genei summarises PDFs and webpages into bite-sized chunks and meaningful information, such as keywords, tables, figures, references and more.
Students can build seminar notes with a few clicks using genei’s notepad. AI-powered summaries can be added to the notepad for each paper or across a project folder. In the notepad, genei offers a range of powerful and customisable AI writing features for pro members.
Students can set up ‘prompts’ to summarise, paraphrase, expand, or condense the material in the notepad. Prompts can be customised to complete a wide range of writing tasks using your collection of notes. Pro members can also use smart search features. Students can ask genei a question and have an answer summarised from their reading material.
During seminars, students can use active listening to remain engaged. Preparing in advance with lecture notes, preliminary reading, and additional tasks can help you to stay focused and follow along. This makes it easier to engage in active listening because you understand the discussions that are happening.
Active listening simply requires you to be present and focused on understanding. Seminars are an ideal place to practise active listening. Here’s how you can engage in active listening:
- Pay attention to the person currently speaking and let them finish their train of thought
- Ask clarifying questions to confirm you understand their points
- Alternatively, you can write down your questions, or aim them at the whole group to facilitate discussion
- Paraphrase what you heard into your notes using your own words
Taking notes is actually another technique for active listening. But, what should you write down and how can you structure your notes? It can be hard to write well-organised meaningful notes while trying to listen and contribute. You can take effective notes by understanding what information to capture and having a go-to note-taking technique.
In your seminar notes, you can aim to make notes on the following:
- New insights on the reading material, topic, or concepts being discussed
- Assignment-related ideas - whether these are your own, someone else's, or hints shared by your lecturer
- Critical questions about the discussion topic i.e., has anyone disproved this theory?
- Additional resources - your lecturer might signpost the group to resources for their questions that could be useful material for assignments
- Answers to your questions or other student's questions
These are a few key examples of things to listen out for. This makes it easy to know what to look out for instead of taking notes throughout the entire discussion. You can also write down your own questions, thoughts, ideas, and critical thinking points. Seminar discussion can be a good place for refining your own understanding, so don’t forget to note those things down, even if you don’t share them in the seminar.
Effective Notetaking Techniques
Now, you know what to listen out for and make note of, but it’s still easy for notes to become disorganised. You can make organised and easy-to-follow notes using:
You can annotate lecture summaries, preliminary readings, or your collective notes during the seminar. This can be an easy way to link notes to the right topic or reading section. You’ll also be able to skim over the content of those notes to follow along. Annotation can also be a good way to engage in active listening. Seminar discussions are unlikely to follow a strict structure, which makes annotation ideal for skipping back and forth between different topics.
You could also use pre-defined popular notetaking methods, like the Outline or Cornell methods. The outline method prioritises organising information in a hierarchical way using main topics and sub-topics. The Cornell method divides the page into sections for main notes, keywords and questions, and finally a summary section. Depending on the seminar, you might want to annotate readings with discussion points, but create separate notes for the rest of the discussions.
Like annotation, visual notes can be ideal for the semi-unstructured nature of seminar discussions. You can use mindmaps to link ideas, thoughts, and questions to a range of topics and sub-topics. This can make it easier to form broad connections between material, which can be useful for developing new insights both during or after the seminar. You could also use other forms of visual notes, such as sketch notes, which is ideal for those who prefer creative note-taking methods.