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Centre for Academic Development

Holding seminars remotely

In a seminar, discussion is in focus. It is where different perceptions, views and interpretations intersect. When a seminar is to be held remotely, you therefore need to think about how to get students to interact, even though they are sitting in different locations and cannot always see or even hear each other.

For a seminar to work well, all participants need to prepare to be active and contribute to the discussion with their thoughts and ideas. Whether the seminar is held with delayed (asynchronous) communication in a discussion forum or with live (synchronous) communication using a tool for digital meetings, it is important that the end result is a meaningful exchange.

In some cases it might be helpful to hold a remote seminar in a discussion forum, where students post their contributions and get feedback from other students. That gives them the time to think and reflect before they respond and since the discussion usually goes on for some time, it can take different directions and in the end actually highlight a variety of aspects. Compared to a face-to-face discussion, more students are often heard in a forum discussion, and for students who are normally sitting quiet in the seminar room, the forum can be a way of making their voices heard. At the same time, a seminar in a discussion forum may be perceived as slow if the response from you as the teacher or other students are a long time coming or do not come at all, and there is always a risk that students talk past each other or that the texts on the wall appear more like back-to-back monologues than a coherent dialogue.

A more common, and often better, solution is to hold the remote seminar in a tool for digital meetings. This gives you plenty of opportunities to create a seminar environment similar to the one that students are used to from campus. In a digital meeting, you and the students can together use a whiteboard to organise the discussion or document conclusions, and there are also ways of dividing students into smaller groups that you can then move in between. Most tools for digital meetings have a recording feature. This enables students who are not able to attend the seminar to access what has been said at a later stage. The same of course applies to students who may want to brush up on what was being said at the seminar. Information on regulations relevant to the recording of seminars can be found here (OBS! Inforum login required.)

Tips for choosing digital tools

  • You can hold a seminar as a digital meeting with audio and video in Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate (The website is in Swedish, but the videos on the site have subtitles in English). These tools also enables you to divide students into smaller groups and digital group rooms, so-called break-out rooms. See instructions on how to create digital group rooms in Zoom and break-out rooms in Blackboard Collaborate (The page starts automatically in Swedish, but English can be selected on the page)

When planning remote online lectures – remember

  • that turn-taking may be complicated in digital seminars. Can you perhaps use a feature for students to raise their hands to make a list of speakers and in that way create a better flow in the seminar discussion?
  • that some students are unaccustomed to and somewhat uncomfortable participating in a digital seminar with audio and video – at least initially. Would students feel more confident in the seminar if you first create digital group rooms to facilitate small-group discussions?