Creating accessible seminars and tutorials for disabled students

2. Reflecting on practice

The words 'seminar' and 'tutorial' are often used interchangeably, and the substitution of the expression 'small group teaching' doubtless fails to address the fact that some such 'small groups' are in fact larger than some student bodies present in a lecture. However, perhaps the most significant feature commonly associated with seminars, or tutorials or small group teaching is that there is an expectation that students will actively participate in the session. This distinguishes the subject of this leaflet from that of Creating Accessible Lectures for Disabled Students, without pretending that the distinction is hard and fast.

What will be addressed here, then, are those aspects of teaching in seminars or tutorials which influence the possibility that disabled students will be as able as their non disabled peers to participate effectively. Broad, though not mutually exclusive, headings may help to organise the discussion of different types of considerations relevant to the accessibility of teaching in small groups:

A further area for consideration is the particular case where students are expected to work collaboratively in small groups towards an end such as a presentation, project report or product, such as a designed model or poster. Such outcomes may or may not be assessed, and the respective contributions of individuals gauged or not, raising different considerations in each case. These issues will be discussed under a third heading, namely

Before continuing the discussions under these headings, however, there are perhaps some more general considerations which effectively emerge as a backdrop to the detail of what is offered to and expected from students in seminars and tutorials. These considerations are about departmental policies on student attendance at participative, smaller group teaching sessions. Publicised clarity about attendance requirements are of importance to students who might know in advance that attendance will be extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible. Students whose mental health difficulties are such as to render the experience of group participation painful or likely to exacerbate symptoms, students whose stamina is insufficient to permit campus based study and students whose study is interrupted by periods in hospital, all raise the question of what scope there can or should be in any given course for an alternative to actual attendance.

"Students who miss tutorials can normally collect question sheets and sets of answers to problems. All staff are expected to be willing to spend time with a student who has missed a tutorial through illness, and has then attempted to work through tutorial problems."

"Normally participation within tutorials is a compulsory element to all courses. Web-cam or conferencing materials could be used to 'bridge the situational gap'..."

The role of seminars and tutorials in the course of study, and the flexibility or lack of flexibility about students' attendance, require to be thought through in advance and clearly communicated to students and applicants. The relevant legal issues which will be discussed below in Reflecting from the Legal Angle may be useful in informing such thinking, which needs to address the question of whether seminars and tutorials are regarded as valuable and worthwhile, but optional opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of and involvement in the subject, or as non negotiable course requirements. Only tightly defined ‘competence standards’ are exempt from the otherwise pervasive duty to make reasonable adjustments in the DDA Part IV Code of Practice revised 2007. Whether attendance is absolutely required of students or not, appropriate adjustments can and should be considered, such as providing post-seminar summaries of discussions, or rearranging student groups or teaching rooms.

Next page

Top of Page

Teachability Home Page