I'm due to be starting university in September, and I'm just wondering what exactly seminars are? I really hate speaking in front of people, and so, from what I've heard, seminars aren't sounding like too much fun. Can you request to not speak during them, or are you forced to do so?
Not taking part defeats the object of them.
Seminars can be different between (and within) courses. As a student I hate those 'participation'-based tasks, but *most* of the seminars I attended weren't bad at all.
Some examples from my undergraduate degree:
We had to look at scans/graphs/other resources in small groups and discuss/decide the answers to a set of questions - sometimes someone from each group would feed back the answers to the class, sometimes the TA would just come around and speak to each group separately
Some were just like smaller-group lectures with occasional questions (you didn't usually get 'picked on' for an answer)
Some were more like demonstrations - usually a few people from the class would volunteer to be directly involved and everyone else would watch, ask questions etc
Only a few were really discussions, and because of the class size we were mostly subdivided into smaller groups, so you're not speaking to the whole class. just those sitting nearby.
Generally you would have a framework - you'll know the topics beforehand and if you plan for it, you can plan out some things to say (it doesn't have to be massive, even just a question about the topic, or a small link between that topic and something else, or a reason why you're interested in the topic for example).
As someone who now teaches seminars, it's really boring and difficult if nobody in the class speaks (surprisingly, this has happened a fair few times!) so your lecturers really appreciate you chipping in, even if it's only a few words (and even if you don't want to talk every session!) Nobody can force you to speak, but you may as well if you think of something relevant to say! Particularly if your groups are small, or your lecturer speaks to you directly, it's your opportunity to ask about things you're not sure about. It doesn't matter if you say something that isn't amazing - building ideas from whatever starting points you have is part of the process and will help you learn and remember things.
I have 1 seminar a week for my course, and it's a small group of about 20-30 people (well, if everyone turns up). We are in a computer room, the tutor goes through a to-do list for that session, which relates to the lecture we had earlier that day. We then work through it, asking questions if we need to. Basically it's like a lesson at 6th form - you get taught the stuff, then do activities to enhance your knowledge. We've only had to present once for an assignment, and that was in a group. There's hardly any speaking in front of people, unless you want to answer questions that are asked. People just do their own thing with the work, it's pretty laid back. I study forensic psychology.