Having just kicked-off a new student-led seminar (SLS) program in the Bachelor of Science Advanced (Global Challenges), I thought I'd share my key discoveries thus far.

Associate Professor Susanna Scarparo sums up the benefits of SLSs perfectly - these
"...gave me a chance to stop talking at/to student and start working with them, to subtly guide their learning, and I could find out what they find interesting and how they like to learn."

Let the students drive

I started developing my SLS program like a typical scientist. I did quite a lot of research. I spent an inordinate amount of time building marking rubrics and plans. 

You don’t need to do all that. The students will likely take a topic, and run in a direction you haven't considered. Their ideas will be better than yours. They will use technology in exciting and engaging ways.

I feel my main role is providing the opportunity for students to explore and innovate,  through active learning. Sit back, watch and learn. Don't constrain the students too much, and give yourself permission to step away.

Global Challenges students teaching each other.

Unexpected wins

SLSs have helped my students develop a broad range of skills related to research, critical thinking, team work, time management, storytelling...and so on. There are many positive outcomes, but for me, some have been unexpected. Here are a few surprises -
  • When students chose content, or create questions for discussion, they automatically cover what is most useful and relevant to them. The pitch is always right.
  • Students recognise the hidden curriculum, and when engaged, think beyond the scope of the marking rubrics. Some students forget they are being assessed. They have a strong focus on their broader professional development.
  • Students discuss other SLSs, making nuanced connections and reflections casually. 
  • SLSs evolve. Each new team contributes something extra, by building on the qualities of the group before.

A sense of discovery 

Exploration and discovery are key reasons we academics do what we do. Within the lecture theatre and laboratory, we aim to inspire and translate our enjoyment of science to those around us. Science undergraduates are often driven by these same things. During undergraduate study, however, students may not always have opportunities for self-directed learning. Yet, when I reflect on my own learning experiences, in university and beyond, it was self-directed discovery that engaged me most. 

Student-led seminars allow us to hand that sense of discovery back to our students.

Global Challenges students doing self-guided discovery.
Susie Ho teaches in the School of Biological Sciences. She can be found on twitter @SusSci
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