Undergraduate Seminars for year 2
Why have seminar presentations?
Year 2 seminars are viewed as an early opportunity within the degree programme to allow students to develop and assess a number of transferable skills for which conventional written examinations may be inappropriate. It is viewed as a fundamental aspect of the seminar presentations that these transferable skills are developed along with subject-specific skills and knowledge. For example, transferable skills are developed in the gathering and dissemination of subject-specific material (which has been individually and collectively researched) to others. Additional transferable skills include editing of material to ensure relevance, teamwork - the presentation is a group exercise and carries marks for being such, and working to deadlines in both the date and length of the presentation.
The development of these skills is a means by which employability of students is enhanced, something that is recognised by both staff and students alike. In addition, having seminars as part of the Applied Economics modules ensures that the students' interest is maintained and allows for discussion of issues that are both current and relevant to their understanding of a range of economic problems.
What are the Seminars?
Seminar presentations are student-led in that the content and organisation of the presentation are entirely at the presenting group's discretion. Material presented is a topic within the content of a particular Applied Economics module and is given to an audience of 12 other students. It should be noted that seminar organisers are available for advice and guidance throughout the sessions, and are responsible for assessing the presentation.
Assessment is based on the qualities of presentations according to the following criteria: visual aspects of the presentation (10%), verbal aspects of the presentation (10%), structure (20%), knowledge/analysis (40%), and teamwork (20%). The marks in each of the first four categories are awarded to each individual member of the presenting group and all members of the presenting group are awarded the same teamwork mark. Each seminar attracts a 20% weighting in each 10-credit year 2 applied economics module, and so counts for 0.33% of the final degree mark.
Evaluation and Evolution of Seminars
Students have commented very favourably on the seminar process and recognise the value of presentation experience. While many feel nervous and tend to be somewhat stilted at the start, they soon realise that they are in a "friendly" environment and respond well to the comments of the assessors.
Student views have been sought on a number of issues (including assessment where the weight given to seminars has increased from 10% to 20%). This change was instigated by the student body who, given the amount of preparation being undertaken for presentations, felt that higher formal credit was merited. However, earlier attempts to include some element of peer assessment in the process (i.e. students providing some input into other students' marks) were disliked by students and so this was halted.
Staff have noticed how the general standard of presentations improves greatly over the year, as students learn what works and what does not. Furthermore, it allows staff to get to know a new dimension of each student's abilities and of course offers a welcome alternative to the more didactic lecturing style of teaching.