Making the Most of Lectures

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1 Making the Most of Lectures This section will help you to : O BJECTIVES Identify why lectures are used Get the most out of lectures by knowing how to prepare and learning how to listen Identify different methods of lecturing Familiarise yourself with your tutor s preferred style Making the most of lectures What is a lecture? How can lectures work for you? Facing up to the challenge Listening with a pen C ONTENTS Preparing for lectures During lectures After the lecture is over Variations upon a theme Handouts Lecture checklist Lecture summary sheet

2 Making the most of lectures One of the most common forms of teaching at university is the lecture. It is used in every department for every subject. What is a lecture? How can lectures work for you? The aim of this section is to introduce you to lectures, asking why they are used and what you can expect to get out of them. A lecture can be broadly defined as being : Presentation of information Frequently with no interaction Delivered to large groups of students. Commonly you will not be asked to play any other part than to listen and take notes. Lectures often fall into two categories: Presentation of basic information: an introduction to broad themes, theories, skills or techniques. Detailed focus on one specific aspect of your subject, often applying techniques and theories to a particular example, problem or text. The lecture is a particularly useful method of putting one tutor in contact with a large number of students. Often the only limit on the staff / student ratio at a lecture is the size of the lecture theatre itself. It is often hard to concentrate for a prolonged period of time at the level required to make the most of every lecture. Most of Lectures 2

3 Similarly your ability to concentrate will vary from time to time depending upon your motivation, health and the many other things that may otherwise occupy your mind. However, you will need to develop strategies for prolonging your concentration and stimulating your mind if you are to maximise the benefits of lectures. Perhaps a key to a successful lecture is to look for questions rather than detailed solutions. Often when we carrying out our own research we can identify complex theories and arguments but we do not necessarily experience them in practice. In delivering the lecture, your lecturer is providing you with the process as well as the detail. The main benefits of a lecture might therefore be the opportunity to : experience actual argument, debate or exploration of process have theories explained through an example develop an understanding of the use of technical terminology. You are therefore both receiving information and learning by example. Facing up to the challenge The main problems that you will face in lectures, as in other areas of study, is that you will feel pressured to perform several different acts at once. Not only will you have to listen, you will also need to understand the subject matter, relate the information to your own existing knowledge and attempt to take some form of notes. However, if we agree that the purpose of lecturing is to show by example rather than to dictate large quantities of notes, the pressure to write down everything that is said can be released. Most of Lectures 3

4 Whilst you will need to take some notes, it is more important that you have followed the lecture thoroughly and understood the development of the main themes and arguments. In this sense, perhaps the most useful sections to take notes on are the introduction and conclusion, plotting only intermediary stages during the main bulk of the lecture itself, keeping a rough map of the flow of information. Listening with a pen The difficulty of listening to one voice for up to an hour or longer cannot be underestimated. It would only be natural if your mind was to slip onto another subject. This makes it all the more important to try and listen actively. Active learning is done with a pen. Remember the benefits of lectures, that they, through practical example can help you understand the application of complex theory. It will help to keep your mind active if you question what the lecturer is doing and how she/he is developing the argument. What theories is he/she using? What can be proved by using them in such a way? What conclusions have been drawn? If you listen actively, taking key notes, asking questions, exploring the process as well as the detail you will be better able to make the most of your lectures. The next sections introduce you to a strategy for working before, during and after a lecture. Most of Lectures 4

5 Preparing for lectures You will feel more confident in your ability to listen rather than take notes if you have prepared in advance for the lecture. This may simply involve reviewing the notes from the previous session if the lecture programme is a continuous one. Or it may involve slightly lengthier review of other work if the lecture is aimed at feeding into your own research on an issue. Whatever the purpose of the lecture itself, some preparation before you enter the room will help you focus on the subject under discussion and encourage you to settle back and listen to the proceedings. During the lecture Keeping your mind active and alert during a lecture is vitally important. This can be aided through your continuous questioning of the material as it is presented to you. You will also need to try and develop an effective and efficient way of making notes. Recording information word for word is time consuming and takes your thoughts away from the content. You do not need to write down every word your tutor has spoken or copy down every diagram that has been displayed. Plotting the key stages in an argument, accompanied with a thorough understanding may be more effective than comprehensive notes scrawled down without question. Try some of the techniques suggested in the section on Taking notes such as pictorial structures or sequenced paragraphs to help take quick, accurate and effective notes. Most of Lectures 5

6 After the lecture is over If you have had the confidence and the ability to sit back and actively listen you will need to write further notes within 24 hours of coming out of the lecture. Even if you have treated the lecture as an exercise in dictation, it will still be useful to return to your notes and pull out some of the key themes before the lecture fades in your memory. Our memory retention span is very short if we do not take sufficient steps to consolidate our understanding. A lecture summary sheet, such as the one at the end of this section, will help you to pull out any key words or ideas. This will help you review the content of the lecture and help you fix the key issues in your mind. The summary sheet will also be of use in organising your notes, highlighting their content for later reference and revision Use this time to review the quality of your notes. Check whether they contain all of the information and ideas that you got out of the lecture. Also check, whilst you have the information fresh in your head, that the notes are clear and understandable. Variations upon a theme Whilst many lecturers choose to speak for the entire lecture time, sometimes they will use a variety of other techniques including film and slide projection and television and video. These must be treated as actively as your listening. Why are you watching this video? What evidence is it offering? Where does this fit into the overall themes of the subject or the content of the lectures? Most of Lectures 6

7 Many lecturers will use other audio-visual techniques in their presentation of information such as overhead projection or black and white boards. These will often be used to display key themes and words, diagrams or calculations. Such aids can help you structure your notes. Look to see if the lecture is recording key points or whether they are simply showing working or process. The key points may well inform your note taking, whilst the process, unless it is new to you, should be observed and understood. Different ways of working Some lecturers prefer to break up their lecture time with small group or individual activities, opening the session with a period of delivery, followed by an opportunity for group discussion of themes or working out of specific problems. An interruption such as this can be very useful in redirecting your concentration, thus helping you assimilate the information more thoroughly. Handouts Another variation on a theme is the use of handouts or printed material in support of the lectures. Some tutors will give these out at the beginning of a lecture, others at the end. Some will have prepared lists of keys words and phrases, others reading lists or extracts from books and journals. Try and establish your lecturer s preferred style so that you do not waste valuable listening time taking down detailed notes only to have these given out at the end of the session. Ask your lecturer to announce what handouts will be used for this session. Remember that the lecturer may not be prepared to give everything out at the beginning but it will help your confidence to know what is coming and when. Most of Lectures 7

8 Summary : The use of lectures Remember that the most beneficial use of a lecture is to see the application of complex themes and theories. To make the most of this you will need to be an active listener, exploring what the tutor is doing with the information and how he/she is arriving at a conclusion. In other words, an awareness of the method may be of equal importance to the actual information content. Lecture Checklist Before Have you read any relevant handouts? Have you brought these with you? Have you reviewed your notes from the previous session? During Are any handouts being used? Do you need to write everything down? Listen actively Take structured notes Ask questions of the presentation After Write up your notes within 24 hours of the lecture Make these as clear as possible to be of long term use Highlight any areas you did not understand Highlight areas of further interest Store your notes in a safe place Most of Lectures 8

9 Lecture Summary Sheet Lecture Title: Module: Date: Lecturer: Key Points: Key References: Further Activity: Most of Lectures 9

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