Lecture / Seminar

How long should you take to prepare for class?

prepare-for-class

Last week, I talked about deadlines.

Deadlines are usually reserved for coursework. But it helps to think about the smaller projects and preparation you need to do before class.

The deadline for seminar preparation is the day of that class. Pretty simple. But not always obvious. If you haven’t thought of it as a deadline until now, maybe that’s enough to see it in a new light.

Lectures and seminars usually rely on you having done some work beforehand. It could be some reading, a small quiz, a survey, an experiment, an exercise, or something similar.

I remember it being standard to fit prep in at the last minute. The same day was no surprise. And some people would even do the work as they walked to campus, moments before class started. A frenzy of reading and walking.

That’s not enough time to do the work. Glancing isn’t engaging.

At such a basic level, there’s not much chance to ask relevant questions and properly interact in seminars.

It doesn’t feel like so much rests on doing this work. “I can always catch up and do it in my own time,” you could say.

Problem is, the idea of preparation is to bring out the best in our abilities when the more important work does come along.

So while last-minute preparation for class is clearly a less important version of the all-nighter, it could still leave you worse off than you should be in the long run.

The way to combat this is to prepare for preparation.

What does that mean!? Essentially, it means that when you know what’s expected of you before you attend, do these 3 things:

  1. Plan what you’re going to do (if it isn’t already explicit);
  2. Estimate roughly how long it will take (and leave room for extra time just in case);
  3. Schedule when you’re going to do it.

It’s amazing how free you’ll feel when you prepare for preparation. All it takes is making that solid schedule and having a full understanding of what’s expected of you.

working

You don’t need to schedule it all in one go either. Let’s say your course is heavy on the reading. You have 100 pages to read before next week’s session. Why not find four slots in your schedule to read 25 pages each time? Or five 20-page sittings?

The more you’re in control of your plan, the better you can engage with your learning.

My worst experiences have been the times when I put off the inevitable. My best experiences have been when I have all the preparation laid out in readiness.

Think of your own best experiences. When you enjoy the work and get stuck in, the learning feels easier. The preparation seems to fall into place without effort.

Why does it feel so effortless? Put simply, your enthusiasm allows you to naturally prepare the groundwork.

And since we can’t feel as enthusiastic about everything we do, we need to be a bit more considered in our approach.

The execution is always the same. Set out what you’ll do, prepare for everything, and make it happen.

You can’t fake the excitement, but you can always stay ahead with your prep.

Make Unique Lecture Notes With Pen & Paper – TUB-Thump 019

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Happy New Year to you!

Now it’s around the time of return to the academic side of life, it’s time for another TUB-Thump.

And what better way to celebrate than to look at how to engage with your lecture notes?

Okay, there may be better ways…But hey, this’ll come in useful. Don’t sass me. ūüėČ

Today’s episode tells you to forget the laptop and the tablet. Pen and paper notes rule.

Why? Because unique notes and personal viewpoints are better than getting it down verbatim.

Get the lowdown below.


Here are the show notes for the 5-min episode:

  • 00:40 – Why pen and paper rules compared to typing notes on a laptop/tablet/phone.
  • 01:30 – Why it’s better NOT to have every word of a lecture written down.
  • 02:30 – Episode 002 of TUB-Thump: Take Lecture Notes Using These Two Rules
  • 03:15 – Why is it so difficult to engage with the lecture content in your notes when you’ve not put your own take on things?

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

good-year-2017

Why Mindful Lecture Notes Beat Writing Everything Down

A recent study found that a pen and pad is better for taking lecture notes than typing them on a laptop.

This may say more about the way we use tools for making notes. Fast typing can cause you to take notes word for word, even when you’ve been told not to. Change could be minimal, since the ability to take near-verbatim notes is there.

How do you take notes in a lecture?

Fear of missing out is one possible issue. As with social networks and instant message notifications, the fight to keep up can drive us mad. With a laptop and touch-typing skills, you can transcribe all the words. You know, just in case…

This ‘just in case’ method of writing everything down stops you from engaging with the content, even though you’re recording it all. While some students can revisit the content and engage with it effectively afterwards, many others don’t work this way. Either way, you set yourself up to spend more time on the lecture content than you need.

I see notes differently. I don’t bother with notes at all sometimes, although I begin with the expectation that I’ll write something down. Some of my lecture notes are two or three lines of writing and nothing else. I take down what I feel I need and nothing more.

At times, the notes have flowed and I’ve had a lot to get through. Unfamiliar topics can do that. But it’s still not the same as typing up as many words as I can, with the possibility that I’ll need it all. No matter how many notes I end up writing, the process is mindful. I engage with the content and act accordingly.¬†Don’t just hear the words, hear concepts and ideas and questions and arguments.

After a lecture, a lot of information can be missing from the page, but not from my thoughts. Alternatively, I know that the rest of the information is elsewhere and in a format that I will fully engage with anyway.

In a lecture, the idea is to¬†mindfully consider your notes and carefully listen to the speaker. By typing almost everything out, you’re noting down but not engaging with the information. When you come to the notes later, you read them almost as if they’re in book form…a book you’re coming to for the first time.

You need to work more deeply with the content. Repetition doesn’t help. It’s the same reason why advice to keep reading your notes until you know them back to front is not that helpful in boosting your understanding.

When your lecturer talks about something you aren’t clear about, write down key points and any questions you have. Treat the lecture as an information source that you’re selecting from, rather than a wall of noise that you need to grab as much as possible from.

That one difference in attitude should give you the ability to record your notes in whatever way you like. Even if you keep typing instead of handwriting, the secret is to extract what’s useful to you. You can only do that when you are mindful of the content.

Whatever you do,¬†don’t ignore your notes. Write a brief summary outlining what you found out and explored in the lecture. No more than a few sentences. With a summary and your original notes, return to them in a week and then in a month.

  • Find out more about the things you’re still unsure about;
  • shorten notes and simplify where possible into key points as you become more familiar with them;
  • add context and additional findings where necessary;
  • remind yourself that the purpose of your notes is to strengthen your ability ongoing, with the ultimate aim to use them as a springboard to jump from when considering coursework and revising for exams.

When you no longer need the notes or when they have taken on a new identity, congratulations. You don’t need notes forever. You outgrow them. They get replaced by new notes. Eventually, they get replaced by the essays and exams that you’re proud of.

Contact Hours Should Be About Quality As Well As Quantity

How much importance should contact hours be given? What do these hours mean to each student? Hours vary between subjects and also between institutions. Do we search for a sweet spot, try for as many hours as possible, or look beyond contact time completely?

Nicola Dandrige, CEO of Universities UK, says that contact hours have changed over time and, as a result, represent too narrow a focus in isolation:

“What we are hearing is the importance of teaching and learning and universities are responding to that in more imaginative ways than just contact hours.” [Source]

From this viewpoint, hours will vary considerably as institutions adopt different approaches to their teaching methods.

But students have become accustomed to viewing contact hours as a good way of working out value for money. A QAA report on student expectations found that contact time was considered the most important, if not the only, cost relating to tuition fees.

HEPI found that “those with least contact were least satisfied“, while NUS research found that some students look to contact hours as representing value for money. One student argued:

“If I am only in for three hours a week, why should I pay so much money? You want to tbe at uni and interacting with lecturers.”

Want to control time? (photo by MattysFlicks - CC BY 2.0)

Want to control time? (photo by MattysFlicks – CC BY 2.0)

Comparisons between students is easy. Even when there is good reason for a contrast in contact time between students, an imbalance does not make for a happy reaction. Take one such reply in the 2013 Student Academic Survey by Which? and HEPI:

“I’m a third year history student and only get three hours a week contact time. And yet I pay the same price as someone who has 12 hours per week.”

Nevertheless, the Which? report states that “contact hours have risen by just 20 minutes per week since 2006”. And while student expectations are understandably on the up, needs and expectations are two very different things.

The 2012 Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey found:

“…for those with fewer than 10 hours of lectures a week, 21% felt the debt was too high while the figure was just 10% for those who spent over 21 hours in lectures.”

But is it all about spending longer in lectures?

I have previously argued that not all contact hours are equal and that the term ‘contact hours’ has no context in isolation. It might be easy to break down the number of hours you spend each week into a monetary value, but it counts for nothing if the contact isn’t helpful.

Thankfully, students do appear to seek quality contact far more than lengthier contact. The number of hours may or may not be enough, but the most important factor on the minds of students has little to do with time. Take this year’s HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience Survey:

“…two thirds of contact experienced by students was in class sizes of 16 students or more. There is a striking decline in the proportion of students perceiving educational benefits as the size of class increases.”

The report goes on to say that while a third of students wished for more contact hours,¬†“…the findings here suggest that increasing the quality of contact (which is more probable in smaller classes) is likely to be more effective in improving the student learning experience than simply increasing contact hours”.

QAA reported similar findings:

“…we found [students] wanted more ‘close support’, through contact time in small seminars and tutorials, and definitely not more lecture hours.”

The Student Room asked students how much 1 to 1 time they expected to have with a tutor each week. More than half of the prospective students surveyed expected between one and five hours. The reality is, on average, more like half an hour.

But it seems that the more personal time given to students, the better. Gibbs reported:

“What seems to matter is the nature of the class contact. ‘Close contact’ that involves at least some interaction between teachers and students on a personal basis is associated with greater educational gains (Pascarella, 1980) independently of the total number of class contact hours (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005).”

So the number of hours given to contact are important, but only when also assessing the relative value to learning.

And as one HE friend put it to me this week, some students want to be taught via lectures and increased seminar allocation, while others prefer to be left in a room with wi-fi so they can research and learn for themselves. Needs are not all the same. A big increase in contact time for a student who identifies strongly with independent learning could work against them.

Rather than compare hours between institutions and courses, how about comparing the number of hours for the same course at the same institution over different years?

If there is a marked change in contact hours over those years, what other changes have been made as a consequence? Is there more 1 to 1 time given, for instance? If so, the reduced time may still provide equal or greater value. However, if little change has been made, the consequences of shorter contact time may be negative.

An hour of personal engagement with a tutor can be worth many hours of listening to the same lecture as the other hundred people in a room. Don’t just look at how many hours you get each week, but look at what’s happening within those hours. You’ll¬†get much better peace of mind in the process.

Different Times, Different Uses, Different Meanings (photo by William Warby - CC BY 2.0)

Different Times, Different Uses, Different Meanings (photo by William Warby – CC BY 2.0)