lectures

Accept What You Don’t Know As Quickly As Possible

James Moos, a Computer Forensics student at the University of Glamorgan, has a simple and effective tip for when you’re making notes in lectures:

“If there’s a word or phrase you don’t understand in the lecture, write it down and look it up when you get home, and add it to your notes. It reduces that panicky feeling of not understanding anything!”

Yup. It’s that simple.

Not everything is obvious straight away (photo by Doug88888)

Not everything is obvious straight away (photo by Doug88888)

When you hear a word or a concept that makes no sense, you can do one of two things:

  1. You stop what you’re doing and feel confused. In the end, you miss more of the lecture;
    OR
  2. You happily note down what you don’t understand to look up later at your own convenience.

Eliminate the panic and stay focused. Do number 2!

The next time you don’t get something, acknowledge it and deal with it later. It’s the best way to stop your mind from wandering and to keep your confidence intact.

How to pay attention in lectures

Lectures can get the better of you, no matter how much you want to pay attention. Actually, wait…No matter how much you need to pay attention.

Yes, at times it can feel like so much hangs on the lecture, but you still can’t manage to keep focus on the words.

photo by Tadeeej

photo by Tadeeej

Okay, so lectures aren’t quite that important (I’ll come back to that in my last point). Still, it’s useful to pay attention to them, whether or not you think they’re the best way to learn about a topic.

Here are my tips to stay switched on and in tune with your lecturer for an hour or two:

Get rid of disruptions

It’s easy to be distracted when something more enjoyable is there to entertain you. Commit to a move away from temptations. Switch off those moreish phone apps, ignore your social networks, and even move away from your mates if they take up too much of your attention in lectures. Whenever temptation is still within your grasp, you’re more likely to reach out and grab it.

Prepare beforehand

Ten minutes is all it takes to have a quick look online for a basic rundown of what you’ll probably encounter in the lecture. The lecture may end up being different, but your preparation will get you thinking about the subject in advance and help you focus on the content when you get in there.

Hopefully you’ll have a list of prior reading, handouts, and other information for you to prepare from. Once you start working with the subject matter, you’ll be less likely to switch off in the lecture.

Eat and drink wisely

If you attend a lecture too full or too hungry, you’ll suffer for it. No matter how busy you feel, find time to get the nutrients you need. Listen to your body and you’ll have a better job listening to your lecture.

Engage in your head

When you don’t get it, your brain can start to switch off. Don’t let it! Note what confuses you, write down questions you have, think whether this part of the lecture is crucial to understanding everything else.

If you’re just bored at a certain point, make sure you note the basic idea/concept down for later so you don’t miss out completely.

Get comfy!

Dress so you’re not too hot or cold in the lecture theatre. If you need to wear more/less outside, prepare for that instead of suffering in the lecture!

What if the seating arrangements are uncomfortable? Bring something to sit on, or find a different seat, or take less stuff with you, and so on. Your surroundings may not be the first thing you consider when it comes to lectures, but it can make a big difference to your attention.

Record the audio on your phone/music player/dictaphone

This should be done for your own personal use only and, even then, you should probably ask the lecturer in advance if they are happy for you to record their lectures (if they aren’t already recorded for you!). I don’t recommend this method as a regular thing, because you can get caught up in listening to the lectures more than doing your own work. Use as a failsafe only.

If you do, you can listen again at higher speeds on an iPhone or software like Windows Media Player and VLC Media Player. I used to listen at 1.4-1.7 times the speed and now frequently listen to podcasts and lecture recordings at 2 times the speed. An hour long lecture in half the time? Yes please!

Focus on your own thoughts rather than the monotonous voice

No matter how interesting the topic, a monotone can send you to sleep. I found the best way to stay awake was to think about my own reactions to what was being said in the lecture. I reframed each sentence or idea in my head so it felt like I was doing a lot of the talking.

That way, I felt more in control of my own focus. If the subject was boring that was one thing, but some topics suffered more from the voice than the content. At these times, focus as if you’re in control, like when you’re reading a book or doing private research.

This took a bit of practice and it did mean I might miss a bit as I went along, but it’s better than missing the whole lecture!

photo by arctanx.tk

photo by arctanx.tk

Relax or take a nap before the lecture

We all need time to relax, to wind down, and to find calm. I love powernaps and it’s worth finding out how much time works for you. We’re all different, meaning I like about 18 minutes and you may prefer 15 or 20. It’s worth finding your personal sweet spot. Many of the people I’ve spoken to who didn’t think powernaps worked for them found that they worked a lot better when they found the right length of nap for them.

If you don’t want to nap, it’s still worth taking time out to relax. As a recent Mind/Shift article on mindfulness states:

“Recent brain imaging studies reveal that sections of our brains are highly active during down time. This has led scientists to imply that moments of not-doing are critical for connecting and synthesizing new information, ideas and experiences. Dr. Michael Rich, a professor at Harvard Medical School put it this way in a 2010 New York Times article: ‘Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.’”

The lecture isn’t *that* important

If you’re worried that you need to hang on every last word of a lecture, your stress levels are bound to shoot up and your concentration levels drop to the floor. Lectures help to frame a topic, make you aware of debates, and give you some of the academic nuts and bolts on your learning journey. Lectures are not for rote learning, even if there is a necessary element of it in some sessions. You are unlikely to fail miserably for missing a single, crucial point in a lecture. If it’s so important, the information will be elsewhere and will likely be repeated again.

-

Some lectures are a slog, no matter what you try. Don’t beat yourself up about that. If it’s all too much, try to understand why. If it’s down to something you can change, try to make that change for next time. If it’s out of your control, either let it go or speak to someone who can help deal with the issue.

How do you cope with difficult lectures? What is the worst you’ve had to endure as you tried desperately to stay focused?

Should lectures be banned?

I’ve just been listening to Donald Clark at the #altc2010 conference in Nottingham.  His keynote speech argued that lectures are rubbish.  Thought I’d share a hastily-written post in the aftermath.

Clark asked why students are still lectured to. He suggested that a complete rethink is necessary, not just the odd tweak.

photo by iwouldstay

Would you like to see the back of these? (photo by iwouldstay)

@GeoShore sums things up amusingly via Twitter:

#altc2010 keynote summary: “Lectures don’t work. Lecturers can’t lecture. Everyone’s been doing it wrong. Arse. Feck. Nuns.”

Despite a couple of questions from the audience asking about alternatives to the lecture, no specific answers were forthcoming.  Clark replied at one point that the answers are “staring us in the face”.

I’ve attended both great lectures and awful ones.  That suggests lectures aren’t automatically a bad thing.

The lecture is just one part of the learning process.  We read, we’re lectured to, we participate in seminars, we have one-to-one tutorials, we form study groups, we have online participation…

Clark said he enjoyed TED talks and appreciated their production values, but he seemed to be looking for more.  TED talks are still, essentially, lectures.

Same with podcasts and videos.  Clark agreed that it’s better to record a lecture than do nothing at all.  However, he argued that this method merely results in a load of poorly delivered lectures streaming out, providing no further value to learners.

Other than end lectures altogether, I’m not entirely sure what is required.  A complete rethink may result in new delivery methods, so will they look like lectures at all?

If new techniques do resemble lectures, why have other delivery styles so far been given a lukewarm reception (if that) by Clark?

If new techniques don’t resemble lectures, the result has been to abandon lectures, not rethink them.

Clark suggested that there needs to be more collaboration and discussion present in this type of learning.  That’s what seminars and tutorials are all about.  This isn’t an either/or situation; different methods of teaching and learning are delivered.  If lectures were the single focus for all information intake, we’d be in trouble.  But they’re not.

Over to you.  Are lectures dead?  Is the lecturer to blame?  What are the alternatives? Are podcasts and video lectures good, or not good enough?  Is the physical process of attending lectures a hardship in itself?

I’d love to hear your views!