Lectures can be a huge part of academic study especially for undergraduates and taught programmes.
They present one of the first academic linguistic challenges that a second language user of English will face at university and our support-tutors have already seen several people this week who were finding their first lectures daunting. If you’d like to join them get in touch.
Attending a lecture is a bit more demanding than finding a seat in the right room at the right time. (Although, depending on the campus and the time-table this can be a hurdle in its own way especially in the first week.) There are several (remarkably easy) techniques that you can use to get the most out of going to lectures. Before we look at them let me just make one thing clear, you need to find the way that works best for you; these suggestions might help most people most of the time but everyone is different. If you are already doing something that works well for you then don’t change that.
An easy way to remember today’s tips are, is PLANTER. A Planter is a piece of furniture (indoor or outdoor) functionally built for growing plants and/or vegetables. Lectures can often serve as the seed of further work and developing your lecture skills is a good way of encouraging those ideas to develop into good work, just like a planter in your home or garden.
- Listen in the moment
- Active Listing
PREPARE: At Winchester a lecturer using slides will share the slides beforehand. Even if there are no slides for a particular session there will still be an outline. If you can’t find these try emailing the lecturer to ask for them. Looking through the slides and/or outline or even brainstorming the topic the day before can help prepare your mind for listening to the lecture. This works through schema activation and by activating your existing schema (background knowledge of the topic of the lecture) you help make sure that you learn as much as possible from the lecture. Many courses will also set a weekly reading this is usually (if not always) complementary to the lecture for that week. Reading it before the lecture can help to prepare your mind and enrich your schema. Another key aspect of preparation is making sure you have the right equipment and materials for the lecture. Whether that’s an audio recorder, (more on this later) a notebook and pen or your laptop to take notes, or even a print-out of the slides to work with you want to make certain that you have got everything you need (including your cup of coffee and taking a toilet brake before the lecture starts).
LISTEN IN THE MOMENT: It may seem amazing but I’ve seen student go through whole lectures with one earphone in, (and occasionally audible music distracting people around them). Also phones ringing or even buzzing & vibrating in pockets and bags. All of these can distract you from what’s going on right now in the lecture. Another big part of listening in the moment is focusing on what is being said at the time. Not trying to copy down what’s on the slide (remember you can down load them) not trying to write down every word that’s said, (most people speak 2-3 times as fast as they write). Try just focusing on the ideas that the lecturer is sharing with you at that moment.
ACTIVE LISTENING: This means overtly and deliberately paying attention to the lecture and the lecturer. Not staring at your laptop, phone, or notebook. Watch them; don’t be afraid to meet their eyes. Seeing people paying attention to your lecture is encouraging to the lecturer, it also shows them if you are following and understanding or whether they need to explain things a little bit more. Even in a large lecture hall those people in the first few rows can share this interaction with the lecturer.
NOTE TAKING: It’s not uncommon to see some people taking notes even in public lectures where there’s no course to take notes for. The act of making notes on something helps us to form memories and the written document can serve as a useful prompt for memory in the weeks and months that follow. Scientific studies have shown that it’s best (for most of us) to take notes with a pen and paper compared to typing notes directly into a tablet, we remember more (even without consulting our notes) and tend to take more useful and selective notes. One fairly widespread and successful note-taking method uses the top 2/3rds of the page (leaving a wide margin) for the core of notes in the lecture. The margin is reserved for particular things you want to single out, a name you want to remember, an article or book you want to read, advice for an assignment that you feel will help you. Lastly the bottom third of the page is where you can summarise and personalise the notes, importantly after the lecture. This may cut into your social life a tiny bit but it gives you a second chance to engage with the notes and tailor them to you personally. This will give you a big boost to your memory of the lecture.
ENGAGE: If you’re doing the things listed above you will already be engaging to an extent but depending on the size of the lecture, and the individual lecturer, engaging further may be an option. In large 1st year survey courses it may not be practical or appropriate to shout out questions or opinions, but many lecturers will welcome these at appropriate moments. Don’t be afraid to ask or even offer your view/experience. In courses I’ve taught with the same lectures the groups with more engaged learners all did better from their engagement. In British culture at the moment there seems to be a silly fashion to be anti-intellectual and anti-expert; but if you’re not interested in expertise and being intellectual about a subject why are you at university studying it. Embrace your inner geek; you’ll enjoy your course more, get more out of it and better marks as well.
REVISE and REFLECT: The lecture experience doesn’t end at the end of the lecture. Take the time to: look back over your notes; follow any interesting leads that were mentioned; re-read the slides/article/chapter associated with it. Work out for yourself what the important ‘take away’ points are for you personally, and how these fit into your wider, ever developing knowledge of the subject.