January 31, 2007, by Teaching at Nottingham

Handouts for learning in lectures

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Kate: “In the lecture, you were using a number of different audio-visual and other teaching resources. What do you use and why do you use those particular kinds of resources?”

Martin: “Science courses are very content-laden. In some ways that’s a strength but in some ways it’s a problem. There’s often a lot of material to deliver. In this particular course there is a fair amount of material but there’s also some concepts that need to be understood.

“So I decided, in this course, to use an overhead projector because I could illustrate the concepts freehand as I went along. I find that’s is a good way of engaging with the students – measuring their rate of attention as well as my rate of delivery and trying to match those two as I go.

“In other courses I might prepare a PowerPoint presentation but I find that much less flexible as a teaching method. It works for different reasons in different subjects. But for this particular one I think the freehand method works, so I carry on with that.

“I backup my freehand delivery with a sheaf of notes which I give to the students at the beginning of the course and they contain the key diagrams and key references and perhaps a few articles that they need to read.

“So they’ve got the solid material in front of them on the desk. They can read that and they can look at it, but at the same time they can concentrate on what I’m saying in trying to deliver ideas and concepts and getting those ideas fixed.”

Kate: “Using handouts in your lectures, I notice that you had left gaps and were providing information and also diagrams. What’s your approach to using these gapped handouts?”

Ed: “It’s an evolved state really. I used to have no notes at all, and they used to have to write everything. This was the style I was given when I became a lecturer.

“When I took over a module I was given a set of notes and the style was at the time that you write out these notes, so your notes become their notes and unfortunately that process is rather inefficient and avoids passing through the mind of either if you are not careful.

“The fact that I give notes with gaps in is really so that they have something to do, it’s as basic as that. They have got to have something to do, if they just sit there and listen to you, especially in a subject like engineering it’s not really sufficient. I think they have to be doing something.

“Again it gets down to attention span. If peoples’ attention span is 7 minutes long, which is apparently what it is, then you have to do something to get them to think and get them to move and participate.”

Martin: “My approach here has changed a little bit over the years, but I go very much on the idea that “less is more”. I think if you try to pour lots of facts into students only a very small proportion is retained. But if you give them concepts that they can latch on to and hold on to, then they can fill in the details later. That gives them a bedrock on which to develop the knowledge and their interests.”

Kate: “If you were talking to a new junior colleague joining the department and you had to give them the “top tips” from your experience for lecturing, ‘less is more’ may be one of them?”

Martin: “Yes, I’m not the first person to have said that, but I think it’s certainly true. And certainly my lectures have much less content now than they did when I started. Somebody told me when I started that “less was more” and I didn’t believe them, but I now do believe them and I pass it on.”

Ed Lester
Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering
Martin Luck
School of Biosciences

Martin is teaching second year Biosciences students about reproductive physiology at Sutton Bonington. Ed is teaching Engineering students on a module about environmental protection (H8BENP Environmental Protection, Level B). Produced January 2007.
This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

Posted in LecturesTeaching