One of the first things I heard a tutor say was"as long as I show up and pay even the slightest bit of attention, you're guaranteed to pass the module". He wasn't wrong. That's the beauty of workshops at third level education; they enable you to learn in a much more relaxed environment than lectures.
If there's one thing I've taken from my time as a college student, it is that workshops are going to be one most useful tools at your disposal.
What are academic workshops?
If I've already lost you with using the word 'workshop', that's okay. Some schools refer to these classes as seminars, tutorials, small group teaching, small group meetings etc. All of these terms refer to a small class in which a tutor or other faculty member will lead a discussion on a specific topic or various topics. This is where you will take a deeper dive into the points brought up by your lecturer.
I've attended workshops that have a mere five students in attendance and others with twenty-five students. Each tutor will structure their class differently. From group activities to individual work, there are so many ways you can interact with your peers to get the most out of your time in workshops.
How are they different from lectures?
Compared to lectures, workshops require participation. Although not all tutors will push each student to participate in every class, which is a pity. I discovered many things very quickly in college. Among them is the silence that descends on a workshop when nobody is willing to speak is very difficult. It's much more difficult than a discussion about the topic at hand, so it's all the better if you're willing to play a part.
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Are they graded?
In most cases, workshops do contribute to your overall grade. There are a few different ways in which workshops might be graded.
- Weekly tasks (from written homework to required reading).
- Participation in class, i.e. responding to questions posed by the tutor or other students.
- Attendance in workshops.
- Leading class discussion with prepared points that you will share with the class.
One of the best things about workshops is that in almost all cases your attendance will contribute to your overall grade. Whether it is 10% or 15%, every percentage counts in the long run. Even if you are struggling with a particular topic in your module, let your contribution in class be a question. As long as your tutor can see that you are attentive and willing to participate, you'll find it much easier to get the grades you want.
Why are they so important?
Apart from the fact that you can get academic credit for them, workshops offer you the chance to interact with your tutor, lecturer and peers so you can learn on a more personal level. One-to-one learning such as this is vital when you have more focused questions and ideas on class topics.
The intimate space of workshops compared to the more formal lecture halls means that discussions can be more fluid. You get to dictate where the discussion goes. If there is a specific path you want to take with the class, take it.
A skill I didn't realise I would learn from workshops is how to communicate my thoughts more clearly.Focused discussions in which you'll be expected to elaborate on your points will aid you in building vital communication skills. After all, good communication skills are one of the most sought after characteristics by employers. Here are ten other characteristics that employers are looking for in a new hire and how to demonstrate you have what it takes!
So, make the most of the time you have in university, sign up for academic workshops to see the difference they can make in your life. Investigate whether your modules for next semester include weekly workshops and seek out those that do. For example, you can see whether a module includes a weekly workshop in the 'How will I learn?' section of its description page.