UP NEXT: The Nature of Self-Directed Learning
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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Making Lectures Unmissable!
Giving learners information is only part of the business of designing a lecture, so we've got to make sure that lectures are learning experiences and not just information distribution events. In particular that first lecture in any series is a make or break occasion for many a learner. It's also make or break for us - there's no second chance to make a good first impression! In other words, we've got to try to make lectures unmissable! It's got to be worth being there. This chapter has been about making learning happen in large-group contexts - usually called lectures on timetables. We've seen that the act of lecturing is rarely the best way of making learning happen, and that we need to be thinking carefully about what learners are doing while sitting in lecture theatres or large classrooms. In this final section of the chapter, I would like to condense some of my main suggestions, linking them particularly to the context of starting off a lecture series. Every new lecturer's nightmare is getting a lecture series off to a bad start, and learner attendance falling off as the series goes on - or worse, lots of learners later failing the related exam and blame coming back to the lecturer. This isn't confined to new lecturers. The following suggestions may help you to make your lectures unmissable.
* Start reasonably punctually. When most of the group is there, get started. Remind learners of some of the things they should already know but that you will discuss in more depth. Alert them to some of the things you don't expect them to know yet too. Don't be too unkind to people drifting in late - that won't encourage them to come to your next lecture if they are late again. Don't punish the people who are punctual by making them wait too long for their less punctual colleagues. Gently allow the people who are coming in late to feel that they may have missed something useful.
* Make the best of the live occasion. Learners may well do much of their later learning from materials they download relating to the lecture, but use tone of voice, gesture, facial expression, and so on to arouse their curiosity, so that they're looking for answers to the questions that are in their minds.
* Don't put too much into the first lecture with a group. It's better to get learners thinking deeply about a couple of important things than to tell them about dozens of things which future lectures will address. It's worth finding out all you can during the first lecture about what they already know. First impressions endure, so try to ensure that learners get a good first impression about the subject, and indeed about you.
* Make good use of intended learning outcomes. Near the start of the lecture, let learners in on what they should be able to do by the end of that particular lecture. Towards the end of the lecture, show the intended outcomes again, and check to what extent learners now feel that they have cracked the learning outcomes. Help them to feel the added value of having been there.
* Always link lectures to assessment. Give learners cues and clues about how this particular lecture counts when it comes to assessment. Whenever you say "You'll needtoday's material for exam questions like such-and-such" you'll notice learners' attention increasing, many jotting something down!
* Make sure you can be seen and heard. Use a microphone if it helps. Don't just say, "Can you hear me at the back?" Ask someone in the back row a question and find out. And don't dim the lights to show your slides at the expense of learners no longer being able to see you. Remind yourself that low lighting for too long at a time is one of the components of the natural conditions to induce human sleep!
* Don't keep slides up too long. Learners will keep looking at the screen, even when that slide is quite finished with. Get them to look at you now and then. For example, when using PowerPoint, on most systems pressing B on the keyboard makes the screen go black. Pressing B again brings it back.
* Don't just read out your slides. Learners can read the slides themselves faster than you can talk. Talk about the slides. Explain now and then what's really important. This helps learners to prioritize the content of the lecture.
* Ask plenty of questions. Give learners the chance to answer them, and be encouraging even when the answers aren't good. Celebrate what they know when possible. Get them to jot down answers first, so they are better armed to share their answers with each other, and with the whole class.
* Avoid death by bullet point. Make different slides look different. Include some charts or pictures where possible. If you're confident with technology, put in some very short video clips now and then, and link in to web-based material you want your learners to study in more detail - but don't be too dependent on the technology working every time - have plan B ready for when it doesn't work.
* Try to make the learners like you. Smile. Be human. Look at them. Respond to them. If they like you, they're more likely to come to your next lecture too. Remember that the feedback students will give on your course depends rather a lot on how much they actually like you.
* Keep thinking of what learners are intended to be doing during the lecture. Don't worry too much about what you will be doing, plan to get your learners' brains engaged. Get them making decisions, guessing causes of phenomena, applying ideas, solving problems, and so on. They'll learn more from what they do than from what you tell them.
* Help learners to capture their learning. For example, try to get learners to jot down their views and ideas, and not just try to write out yours. You can give them your ideas on a handout to download later on the intranet.
* Give learners time to think. Short silences can be very useful - and indeed welcome. From time to time, put a question up on the screen, and ask learners to ponder for (say) a minute or two.
* Get learners talking to each other. Purposeful talking is useful learning. Get them talking to each other now and then, arguing, debating, explaining. This is much better than just allowing chatting to break out because of boredom. Get learners to have a go at explaining something you've just introduced, reminding them this is good practice for answering questions later, for example in exams.
* Be kind to learners' brains. Concentration spans are measured in minutes, not hours. Break up each lecture into at least three parts, with something lighter in between the tougher parts.
* Bring in some appropriate humor. The odd funny slide, amusing anecdote or play on words can work wonders at restoring learners' concentration levels. Then follow up something funny with an important point, while you've still got their full attention.
* But don't use humor if it's not working! Watch their faces and respond accordingly. If they're liking the funny bits, keep putting them in, but if they're not, don't!
* Flag up related sessions. For example, if you're lecturing to a large group and learners will be going later into tutorial sessions to follow up the content of the lecture, show learners some of the questions which will be covered in the tutorials. This will get them started on thinking about them.
* Keep yourself tuned into WIIFM. "What's in it for me?" is a perfectly intelligent question for any learner to have in mind. Always make time to remind learners about why a topic is included and how it will help them in due course.
* Don't be unkind to learners who missed your previous lecture. They're here now. Giving them a bad time won't encourage them to come again. And at least some learners will have very good reasons for not having been able to be there last time - illness, crises, whatever. The more unmissable your lectures are, the more learners will try not to miss them whatever else is happening in their lives.
* Don't overrun. At least some of your learners are likely to have something else to go to after your lecture, and perhaps with not much of a margin for error. If you come to a good stopping place and there are 15 minutes left, do your closing bit and stop. Learners actually like lectures which finish early now and then.
* Pave the way towards your next lecture. After reviewing what learners should have got out of the present lecture, show, for example, a slide with three questions which will be covered in next week's installment.
* Don't just stop. Bring your lecture to a definite close. Make a good final impression. Learners are more likely to follow up the lecture if they leave feeling it has been an important and interesting occasion, and well worth attending rather than just downloading the associated links and materials.