Lecture / Seminar

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!

The little things you might not always think about for lectures

If turning up for a lecture wasn’t difficult enough, you have to learn stuff from it too. Unbelievable!

Even then it’s not as simple as sitting down with a pen and paper (or laptop) and letting the magic commence.

Not to worry. Here are 11 small tips to get the most out of the lecture process:

photo by kitsu

  1. Prepare for the lecture by reading up on the subject. Approaching the lecture with a basic overview can improve your comprehension and boost the clarity greatly (even if you’ve simply checked a Wikipedia article and done a quick Google search).
  2. Take a bottle of water with you. Your mind will wander if you get thirsty half way through the lecture.
  3. For each set of notes, write down the module title, the date, and that lecture’s topic.
  4. Number your pages of notes if you write a lot.
  5. Leave plenty of white space in the margins, so you can make further annotations, if necessary.
  6. If you have further questions that haven’t been answered, NOTE THESE DOWN for asking/researching later.
  7. Mark/Highlight any sections, ideas, or concepts that the lecturer says is important and likely to form part of an essay or exam.
  8. Listen. Yes, I know you’re supposed to listen, but engage with your own mind as the lecture moves along. Ask yourself questions, try and evaluate points through what you already know, get involved in the meat of the topic even though you’re just listening to another person speak.
  9. Even if you’re told a printout will be given of presentation slides from the lecture, still make notes. It’s not an excuse to stop writing.
  10. If the lecturer does present on Powerpoint and (for some strange reason) doesn’t distribute the slides, ask them for a copy. No harm in asking…the worst they can say is ‘No’.
  11. Organise your notes as soon as you can after the lecture. The longer you leave them alone, the less they’ll end up making sense and helping you when you revise from them.

Beyond the Lecture, Before the Testing: Effective Seminars & Tutorials

Not marked. Not assessed. Not important? Not likely!

Seminars are potentially crucial for your learning. Not everyone realises this, because a seminar isn’t part of your final grade and sometimes it can feel like you’ve already got enough information from the initial lectures.

This type of attitude is totally wrong. If a student wants to achieve good grades with confidence and greater ease, seminars and tutorials can make all the difference.

Seminar 10am Friday

So, what are they for:

  • Expanding upon lecture topics.
  • Asking further questions.
  • Gaining answers to some of your questions.
  • Getting closer to what your lecturers may be looking for in your essay and exam answers.
  • Allowing you to confirm your understanding of the topics.

How can you make the most of them:

  • Do the background reading and exercises.
  • Prepare as much as you think you need.
  • Note down any questions you have in advance.
  • Get stuck in! Ask questions, give answers, participate in the discussions.
  • Listen for different views and consider how they differ from your own.

Moving things forward:

  • Note information that the tutor deems important…it’s likely to come up in essay titles and exams.
  • Research the different points of view, especially if you hadn’t thought about them before.
  • Look for new questions that may have risen from the seminar/tutorial work and find possible answers.
  • Compare new thoughts and notes with your original lecture notes and initial reading. Do they change your point of view?
  • Embrace what interests you. Your seminar work can easily lead to a particular focus that would shape a future essay rather well. Don’t lose sight of these lightbulb moments.

What problems occur:

  • Keeping quiet – If you don’t loosen up and use the opportunities available, you’ll miss out on a great deal.
  • Lecture extensions – Tutors sometimes use the extra time to tell you more, without allowing you the time to actively work and ask questions. But make sure the tutor isn’t doing all the talking just because you’re not willing to participate.
  • Lack of preparation – Another reason why the tutor may be doing all the talking…if you want to gain a greater understanding of what you’re meant to be learning, get the work in!
  • Too much time asking irrelevant/simple questions – No question is stupid and you should be brave and ask all that you can. But if you know certain questions can wait for afterwards and are easily answerable in a reference book, it’s best asking the questions that aren’t as simple to get to the bottom of.
  • Finding arguments intimidating – University becomes a hotbed of controversy at times. And that’s just in the classroom! It pays to be passionate about what you think. I’ve seen people panic when differences of opinion occur, but that’s all part of the fun and discovery. Even if the tutor argues with you, it might be because they are passionate themselves, or it could be a test to see how far you’ve considered your own position. You’re likely to be told quickly if your argument isn’t going anywhere…so if the argument is pretty philosophical and leading to further questions, you’re probably doing a good job.
Playing Roles

Don’t miss out on how valuable your education is from every angle. Seminars and tutorials are every bit as important as the lectures, essays, exams, reading…well, they’re all as important as each other. Miss out on one and you may do yourself an injustice.

Have you encountered any spectacular seminars? Did a particular tutorial change your ideas for the better? Have you improved your grade after a successful seminar?

Dry Wipe

Lectures & Seminars: Thirsty Work


When I went to lectures and seminars, there’s one thing I missed out on doing that I really wish I’d done now:

Taken a bottle of water.

That’s it. Nothing else.

One or two people in my classes would always have a bottle of water with them. Sometimes they would leave it next to them and not take one sip. Other times they might have glugged away the entire contents within 45 minutes. Either way, they always took the water with them.

It might not sound like much, but having a drink next to you means you have one less thing to care about when you’re meant to be busy working or listening to complex academic arguments. There were times when I’d be thirsty and I’d look over to another person’s bottle of water and try to use my mind to make it walk over to me and let me take a sip. Like an idiot, I only started taking water to seminars in my final year. And even then it was sporadically, when I remembered.

And that bottle of water could have even saved me money…

You see, if you feel thirsty, then it’s already too late. So when I was feeling thirsty it just made things worse and I couldn’t do anything about it, because I was busy taking notes, or discussing aesthetic values in everyday objects, or letting my mind wander to thoughts of a cold, refreshing drink…mmm, drink!

So the very moment I left the room, I would make a beeline for the student shop or the refectory or the student union. Anywhere that I could buy a drink from. And it wasn’t just me. Seems like a lot of students miss this trick. That’s why I thought it was worthy of writing an entire post about it.

If you’re not keen on filling up a bottle with tap water each time you have a lecture/seminar, why not:

– buy a water filter jug? They fit in the fridge, so the water would be freshly filtered and cold. It would be very affordable if you shared the purchase with all your housemates at the beginning of the year. MUCH cheaper than buying drinks as and when you get thirsty (which will probably be quite often if I’m anything to go by). Or ask for a filter jug as a Christmas prezzie.

– buy a cheap bottle of squash to add a bit of flavour to what you’re drinking? But do remember if it’s apple flavoured squash, or very weak orange squash, you might get people asking you why you’re carrying a urine sample around with you…

I used to think the few people who carried around a bottle of water were:

  • Naturally thirstier people than the rest of us;
  • rebels deep down, trying to tempt the tutors into moaning that they shouldn’t drink in lectures;
  • evil spirits, who put their water on show just to make me feel even more thirsty;
  • trying to look cool, using their water as a prop to show how comfortable they were with their being.

This is probably one thing that I’ve thought way too much about. Maybe I’ll only rest if I find out that tutors really did hate people drinking in their classes.

The element of life