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During the initial weeks of the first term, when most new students will be encountering lectures for the first time, it’s worth spending a little time clarifying what lectures are for, setting out expectations, and demonstrating how students can get the most from them. This can be done using more explanatory approaches, but it’s far better to accompany any explanations with activities designed to enable students to experience for themselves what effective learning in lectures involves. The exercises and activities detailed below are just some examples of the kinds of quick and practical ways of achieving this.
Start the lecture with a brief quiz, survey or paired discussion exercise
When introducing a new topic, you might want to ascertain students’ current knowledge and/or perceptions and opinions. Alternatively, you might be building on a previous topic and so want to do a quick ‘refresher’. Depending on the context, it might also be helpful to punctuate and/or conclude the lecture with the same or different quiz/survey (e.g. to get a quick, on-the-spot sense of how knowledge has changed in light of the lecture). If appropriate, you could also base any activity of this sort of pre-reading or other types of preparation you have asked students to undertake. Such activities can be facilitated digitally (e.g. via TopHat).
Provide structured opportunities for students to discuss and/or raise questions about key lecture topics and themes
Most lectures are structured around key questions themes anyway, but one way of making these more explicit is to give students practical tasks to do in relation to them. For example, around twenty minutes in, you could give the students 1-2 minutes to summarise their thoughts based on what’s been covered in the lecture so far. Then give them a further minute or so to share and discuss their responses in pairs or smaller groups. A further task could be to task each pair/small group to come up with one question and to be prepared to share this if called upon.
Delegate lecture summaries to students
Towards the end of the lecture, or at strategic points during it, direct students back to the key themes and topics covered, ask them write three key ‘take away’ points and/or actions. As above, you could then task them with sharing their reflections in pairs or smaller groups. This, or a variation of this exercise, could also be facilitated digitally (e.g. via TopHat).
Generating questions and/or comments
It’s easy to bemoan student reticence when invited to raise questions, but most of us have probably also witnessed the same thing happen after a conference keynote session, with an audience comprised of experienced academics. However accustomed we are to lectures, raising questions in front of others can be a daunting business and one we would often rather refrain from even when we have questions and points we would otherwise like to raise. That’s why it’s worth generating alternative ways of eliciting contributions. Here are just some:
- Use a digital platform such as Top Hat to generate comments and questions, either at fixed points or throughout the lecture
- Give every student a blank piece of paper and ask them to write an anonymous question (this almost always generates a far greater volume of questions than inviting people to speak in front of the whole group!). These can then be sorted into themes. This exercise can also help you ascertain if there are any common areas of confusion or concern among the cohort. Depending on the context, time available etc. options for responding to such questions include you providing the answers or tasking pairs or small groups to discuss the questions before feeding back.
- Task smaller groups with generating their own questions and/or having a go at answering the questions of others.
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