Lectures and Lecturing: FAQs


Structure

How should I introduce the lecture?

The beginning is crucial. Don't be tempted just to launch into the subject matter, however much you feel you have to get through. A proper introduction to each lecture will take some time out of the session, but it is time well spent. You need to be able to introduce the topic of the lecture, relate it to what has gone before and what has gone afterwards, and also explain how what will be learned during this session fits into the overall unit and, most importantly, to the assessment. The students need to know why you think this topic is important. Having an idea of the lecture structure will help them to take notes.

According to Ferris State University's Eight Steps to Active Lecturing,

Every lecture needs a beginning that does some of the following:

  • engages the audience
  • prepares the audience
  • builds curiosity
  • creates challenge
  • states a question
  • offers a problem
  • outlines the audience's role
  • sets expectations

There are various techniques you can use to get the student's attention at the beginning: see Early attention grabber.

Use the beginning of the lecture to get any essential housekeeping announcements out of the way. If you have set any tasks between lectures, take the time now to review these and to check that they have been completed. If you have set some essential reading, then ask a question about it - see Try Some Interaction for help with actually getting someone to answer.

 

How should I conclude the lecture?

The end of the lecture should be a short section on its own. There’s no need to repeat the introduction verbatim, but it’s a good idea to recap on what has been said, and relate it (yet) again to what has been covered before, what’s coming up next, and to the assignment.

If you expect students to do something between one lecture and the next, reiterate it here and explain how you are going to check that the activity has been completed.

If you end with a question, problem, or task, encourage the students to go and discuss it with someone else from the programme. For first years, you can suggest that they do this with a neighbour from the lecture to give them an opportunity to get to know each other a little better.

 

How do I get students to take notes?

Before you can do anything about this you need to be clear about it in your own mind. Why do they need to take notes? Most lecturers now provide handouts with what they consider to be the 'essential' notes on them. Do you want students to annotate these to add their own insights? Do you want them to answer problems set in the handouts? Should they take notes as a way of engaging with what you are saying, or perhaps as a way of staying awake?

Explain to the students why you think note-taking is important, what you think they should be noting down in lectures, and how they might use the notes in reinforcing the material, completing activities you have set, preparing for assignments and revising for exams. Tell them when you think they should make a special note – repeat anything which is particularly important if necessary.

You might want to direct students to this site on note-taking from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Use the notes they have taken to show that the notes are important and can be used for active learning and not just filed away for revision. For instance, you can suggest that each pair try to think of a quick 'test' question on the material you've just covered for the pair sitting behind/in front of them and see if the other pair can answer correctly - (for similar ideas, see the Try some interaction page.

You could set a five minute test on last week's material at the beginning of the session and collect in the results.

You could put an online quiz up for students to test their recall or application of the materials later in the week, and offer a 'reward' for completion (eg access to some extra revision notes, or a useful website).

You can ask students to use a special code in their notes when you say something they didn't understand. At the end of the session, they can go back over their notes, locate the code and then copy the problem area onto a sheet at the end and hand it to you, so that you can pick this issue up. (see the One Minute Paper page for more on doing this). Make sure that you DO act on this the following session or via your online FAQ if you have them, so that students know that it is worth noting down problems, raising difficulties and asking questions.

 

How do I deal with disruption in lectures?

We know from surveys and reports of programme committee meetings that disruption is something which concerns students, and it can be very frustrating and demoralising for staff. It can seem difficult to manage in a very large lecture room, but don't ignore it.

Disruption can take many forms: chatting, using mobile phones, coming in late and leaving early, or a high level of fidgeting noise which makes it difficult for anyone to concentrate.

Disruption is irritating, but don't let this show. Remember that students may talk in class for 'legitimate' reasons (for instance because they can't hear properly, they can't understand, English not first their language) as well as because they are bored or are being rude and it's important to be aware of the possibility of these things. Giving scheduled times for them to stop and deal with these situations is a simple way of sorting these out. See Try something - Try some interaction for ideas.

On a simple level it's essential that you make clear at the beginning of a lecture programme what your expectations of the audience will be. Remind students of the MMU Commitment which expects them to 'treat staff and your fellow students equally and respectfully'

Remind students to switch off mobile phones at the beginning of each lecture and tell them as often as you need to that phoning and texting are things that you find unacceptable in lectures.

Never let disruption get out of hand.

"While the lecture is going on, scan the crowd, and make eye contact with the students. If a couple of students start to talk to each other, a direct gaze in that direction may be enough to stop it. If it continues, then pause at an appropriate point and ask if anyone has any questions about what has been covered so far in the lecture - again looking in the direction of the students who have been talking. The purpose here is not to embarrass the disruptive students, but to flag up that they are distracting and to offer them a face-saving way of stopping. If they still continue to talk, then again pause at an appropriate point and ask the student directly if they have any problems with what's been covered."

from Fry, Heather.; Ketteridge, Steve.; Marshall, Stephanie (2003). A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, Taylor & Francis, p87.

There are different ways of managing disruption and your own personality will determine your approach. For instance, Barclay Jackson in the Business School uses a yellow card to warn students followed by a red card for a repeat 'offence' which is a request for the person concerned to leave the room.

I have to lecture to halls full of 200 first years, many of whom are unruly and unmotivated and think they are still at school. When warning and/or expelling them, they usually tried to argue that I was unfair. Having played rugby for 50 years, I'd noticed that however bad the offence, however big the offender and however small the referee, when the ref holds up a card, it's usually acted upon immediately without fuss. So in a massed lecture, after a few seconds without speaking I held up a yellow card in front of an offender. Dramatic silence! A minute or two later someone else would talk, so I'd yellow card everyone. Next offence I'd silently red card someone and invariably they'd walk out in silence.

Only use a technique like this if you are prepared to follow it through by ensuring that the student does leave - you will have to be hard-hearted about it and ignore pleas and excuses if they are deployed. Offer to see the student afterwards or ask them to make an appointment with you if they persist in demanding clemency when you've asked them to leave, but insist that they do go on this occasion. This isn't an approach which will appeal to everyone.(Barclay also has a green card which he uses when students make a good response to a question - apparently this is the one which gets used the most).

If you have a persistent problem with particular students discuss it with the programme leader and, if necessary, the Head of Department, who may wish to intervene by talking to the individual(s) concerned.

Always remember that the lecture is a session which you are managing in order for students to learn something. You are responsible for creating and maintaining an environment in which learning can happen and it is reasonable for you to set rules.

If you have five minutes for a bit of light relief on this topic,watch this video and think about how you might deal with that situation:

or this one:

See also:
How do I deal with latecomers?
How should I deal with mobile phone use?

 

See Mark Langan talking about a different approach to this:

How should I deal with mobile phone use?

mobile phoneThere is considerable debate and a growing body of published research (see Campbell , 2006 for a review) relating to the use of mobile phones in various educational settings including lectures, practical classes, seminars and tutorials. Many colleagues have experienced the disturbance caused by a mobile phone ringing during a class and there is no doubt that inappropriate use of mobile phones causes disruption to classes for both lecturers and students alike. Briefly, the problems raised by the use of mobile phones fall into three broad areas:

  • Disturbance: caused by ringing, texting and talking on phones
  • Distraction: Students playing games on phones in class
  • Academic dishonesty: Concerns over cheating in tests and assessed activities

These problems are a concern for both staff and students.

Campbell (2006) makes the point that rather than seeking new solutions to address the challenges (as a result of mobile phone use), it may be tempting to seek to impose restrictions on use of mobile communication technologies in college classrooms and that this position may well find supporters in both teaching staff and students. Campbell (2006), goes on to argue that it is however, important not to lose sight of the constructive uses of the technology in educational contexts for which there is an increasing body of published literature. Campbell (2006), concludes that researchers and policy makers should look not only at the problems associated with the technology, but also at the educational opportunities as this topic continues to gain momentum as an area of interest.

For some educators mobile phones represent a teaching and learning opportunity. There are some very interesting examples here at MMU of colleagues encouraging students to use their mobile phones to text and/or Tweet (using Twitter) questions during teaching sessions and staff encouraging students to search for information on the internet using their phones during active classroom sessions. These innovators might argue that mobile phones facilitate a very high level of connectivity between communities of users, can provide direct access to the wealth of information available on the internet and is a technology that many students and staff are very comfortable using. The issue for these colleagues is how to utilise this ubiquitous communication tool to the best educational advantage.

Student attitudes to the use of mobile phones are also complex. A survey (n=609) carried out by the MMU Student Union showed that 25% of the students surveyed felt that the use of mobile phones should be actively encouraged, for educational purposes, during lectures, while 23% felt that there should be a complete ban on mobile phones during lectures. 52% felt that the use of mobile phones should be at the discretion of the tutor.

Guidance for colleagues at MMU

Although there are restrictions on the use of mobile phones in specific areas such as the library and most, if not all, drop in computer rooms, MMU does not currently impose a formal, outright ban on the use of mobile phones in classrooms. It is therefore important that teaching teams make it clear to students what their policy is on mobile phones.

The principle that underpins all of the issues is that of appropriate student behaviour in classroom settings.There is already some advice on the UTA website relating to disruption in lectures in these FAQs.

These advocate good classroom management and the setting of clear ground rules in relation to general behaviour including the use of phones. The following ideas are a response to requests from colleagues for specific advice on establishing ground rules for appropriate use of mobile phones in lectures.

  • Establish the ground rules early; do not wait until there is a problem. At the very beginning of the course/unit/session set out the policy on mobile phones. The attached PowerPoint slides can be adapted for use at the beginning of a unit or at the start of individual sessions.
    Rules for mobile phone use in class
  • Put the policy in writing in the student handbook and show the students where it is.
  • It may be useful to point out that the the MMU Commitment expects students to 'treat staff and your fellow students equally and respectfully', and that this includes not being disruptive in class by using a mobile phone.
  • Apply the rules you have set out firmly and fairly.
  • You could initially try a more informal approach. Tara Brabazon, in the THES on 6 March 2008 , shared her secret for this discouraging students from using their phones.

    "My promise to answer any phone that rings in my lecture theatre and chat to the person at the other end in front of 140 people, or send a pseudo-intimate text message to their mother, scares students enough to switch off their social life for one hour."
  • If time is available, it may be possible to get your students to produce rules on mobile phones in collaboration with you. This may be particularly helpful as an induction activity at first year. Students could discuss the pros and cons of mobile phone use, consideration for others, responsibility, wider issues of appropriate behaviour. You would of course need to hold a final say on the rules that are implemented.

References

Campbell, S.W. (2006) 'Perceptions of Mobile Phones in College Classrooms: Ringing, Cheating, and Classroom Policies', Communication Education, 55: 3, pp 280-294.[Last accessed 28 th July 2010]

MMU Student Union (2010) The use of mobile phones during lectures, Report on Student Survey on Mobile Phone Use presented to Science and Engineering FADC

 

See what Mark Langan and Kieran Maguire have to say about the problem of phones ringing:

How do I deal with latecomers?

Latecomers are a particular form of disruption (see the FAQ How do I deal with disruption in lectures?).

You can mitigate the effects of late entrances by asking students who do arrive on time to move around before you start so that they leave spaces near the exits and aisles for latecomers to sit down without creating too much of a disturbance.

As with all forms of disruption, remain calm and don’t attempt to make a public example of the individual – this may make them think twice about coming at all next time. If you would like to talk to them about it, then just ask them quietly to come and see you at the end of the session. A bit of humour may be effective in reminding students that punctuality is expected but only use this if you really know the group and are sure that you won’t upset anyone.

Arriving late and leaving early may be due to timetabling issues (eg a colleague who over-runs, previous session in a different building) or personal responsibilities (care for a dependent, long travel times, working patterns) so always check this out with the student privately if they are persistent offenders, and see if there is a solution. You may decide that it’s better that they turn up late and discreetly than not coming at all.

Related links:
How do I deal with disruption?

 

see Mark Langan talking about dealing with latecomers:

I have a good number of students who ask to leave early. What should I do about this?

As with latecomers (see How do I deal with latecomers?), you need to be careful how you handle this. Try to find out why the students want or need to leave early and see if there is an alternative to the early departure. If there isn't, then ask them to sit near the exits and to leave as quietly as possible so that they don't disturb others too much.

For students who leave early without asking you first, you may have a problem. With a large group, you are unlikely to know them personally, so your chances of identifying them to chat to at a later date are small. In this situation, you could try pausing the lecture as they are leaving and saying calmly "I'm sure you have a good reason for leaving now, could you please come and tell me about it, or email me, before the next session?". This should reinforce the point to the whole group that you expect regular attendance and that you are prepared to listen to reasonable excuses. The student may or may not do what you've asked, but you've made your views clear.

If you are suffering regular mass early departures, you need to consider the possibility that students are leaving early because they just can't bear to sit there any longer! You might find it useful in this situation to talk to programme representatives about the student experience and think about implementing some of the suggestions in the Try Something section of this site. If you are really worried about anything which is happening in your lectures, contact the Learning and Teaching Unit for some advice. Also look at the CPD programme for details of short sessions on different aspects of teaching and learning.

 

See Mark Langan talking about students leaving early:

Nobody seems to listen at the end of my lectures. Everyone is too busy packing up. What can I do about this?

There are various reasons why this might happen. Perhaps you tend to over-run a little, and the students have to get off to another session in a hurry? Perhaps they have got used to a verbal or non-verbal cue from you, or from a colleague, that the lecture is about to end when in fact it is not quite over? Is it lunch time and they are all desperate for sustenance? Is the Student Union running a happy hour?

Whatever the reasons, you need to find a way to deal with it. Firstly check your timings so that you are NOT running over the time allotted. Aim to find a way of ending the lectures in a consistent way so that everyone knows where they are. Don’t just stop talking. Make sure that you have between 5 and 10 minutes planned at the end to bring the lecture to a sensible conclusion. See How should I conclude the lecture?

Once you are sure that you have a clear way of finishing the lecture, you need to deal with the problem. As with so many of the questions here, this is a part of creating an environment where people can learn something. You need to set out your expectations clearly and deal with the disruption. If there is a lot of noise, this could be difficult. Quietly spoken people might need something to draw back people's attention, such as a clap of the hands, loud bang on the desk, or a bell, if you have the forethought to carry one around with you. Once you have got the room quiet again, explain calmly that the lecture is not yet finished and that you still have some things to say. If you don't manage to get their attention back, then retire gracefully but make a point of mentioning it at the beginning of the next lecture. Explain (yet again) why the lecture is a place to learn and why it is important for them not to disrupt it by making lots of noise before the session is over. Also say that you will be finishing at a certain time and that you will do your best not to over-run this, and that you will indicate clearly when the lecture is over.

 


Lectures and Learning

How do I check that the students have understood what I've said?

Take advantage of the fact that concentration spans rarely exceed 15 minutes of listening. Plan regular pauses where you expect some interaction with the students. Try to give them a chance to reflect on what you've said and to apply it. This kind of interaction can take many forms (see Try Some Interaction for ideas and you can vary the techniques you use to keep the session lively and engaging. A pause for this kind of activity also gives you some feedback on how students have been able to process what you've told them so far.

Another good technique to use to check understanding, particularly at the end of the session, is the 'One Minute Paper'. The question you ask students to respond to can also be varied from session to session. See the One Minute Paper page for some ideas for question and links to related resources.

If you detect a problem as a result of these responses, always pick it up at the next session, or via your online FAQ if you have them, so that students know that it is worth thinking about what you've told them, raising difficulties and asking questions.

 

How do I maintain interest during a fifty minute lecture?

Many studies have shown that students can't maintain concentration beyond about a 15 minute block. To get the most interest from a large group of people, you should aim to talk for at most three 10-15 minute blocks during the fifty minutes. Between blocks, try using some interaction to reinforce or apply the material you've just covered. This will help them to retain what you've told them as well as breaking up the session.

 

Is the lecture format really the best way of introducing students to this material?

This is something worth reviewing for every single one of the lectures you are timetabled for. What can the lecture do that a different resource, such as a book or an online tutorial, cannot?

You need to think about what the purposes of your lecture are. (see the section on Purpose). There are a few questions you could usefully ask yourself.

What is it that you want the students to be able to do after the lecture?

  • Will they know something particular about the subject?
  • Will they be better prepared for the assignment?
  • Will they be able to solve particular problems?
  • Will they have got to know you, and each other, a bit better?
  • Will they have had a chance to practice doing something and to clarify any problems?
  • Will they have come together to give the course some structure?

Is there anything else they could do (read a book, solve some problems, fieldwork, work through an online tutorial etc) which could achieve these purposes just as well, or better?

You might find that you could review what you do in the lecture and what knowledge you try to cover, compared to the way you cover the material now. You might want to try to link the lecture better to other methods of finding information (eg structured readings, enquiries, problem-solving), and use your time with the students to provide reinforcement of the topic and giving them a chance to interact with you and with each other (see Try Some Interaction), and to identify any difficulties (see One Minute Paper).

Phil Race has said that:

They should leave with more in their heads than they came in with - and not just with a load of information on handouts and nothing in their heads.

This statement is made by Phil Race in his workshops on lecturing.

It's a good maxim, but a challenging one – worth keeping in mind at all stage of lecture planning.

In addition to providing some interaction and feedback, spending a little less time on content should enable small groups to get to know each other a little better. This can be effective, especially for first years in large, impersonal lecture settings. You can help the process by suggesting that they go off for a coffee and discuss the problem or task you've just ended the session with.

 

How do I get students to see a lecture as a learning opportunity rather than something they have to sit through to get a mark on the register?

The answer to this question lies in the expectations that both you and the students have of the lecture.

What do you mean by a learning opportunity? Are you trying to transmit knowledge or do you want them to be able to do something specific as a result of the session? You need to communicate to the group why the lecture is important and how it relates to other parts of the unit, and to the assignment. Is the lecture a learning environment where students will leave with a clear idea of what it is they have learned at the end? Take some time at the beginning of the session to explain what it is that they should get out of it, how this relates to the unit assessment tasks and how other things they are doing (eg set reading) are linked in.

You could aim to transmit information via other methods such as set readings, structured problem solving or online searches and use your lecture time with the students to provide reinforcement of the topic and to give them a chance to interact with you and with each other. If you do set them to find information between lectures, always make time to check that at least some of them have actually done it (see Try Some Interaction), and to identify any difficulties (see One Minute Paper).

 

I ask questions in an attempt to build a dialogue, but the group remain diffident. What can I do?

The aspiration of true dialogue in a lecture is worthy, but you won't get there in one session. You can't spend the whole session asking questions and receiving answers, and in any case, people who are used to being passive receptors of your pearls of wisdom will be taken aback if you suddenly expect them to engage with what you've said to the point of reflecting on it and answering questions!

Is a one to one dialogue with successive members of the group exactly what you want, anyway? There are ways of getting the audience to engage with what you've just told them other than asking them to answer questions which might expose their inattention or lack of understanding or timidity to the rest of the group. They need to build confidence in expressing themselves in a large group situation over a period of time. Have a look at Try some interaction in the 'Try Something' section for some ideas on this, and try varying the approach you take at different times in the lecture and in different sessions.

 

See how Mark Langan from EGS works on this:

I heard a student describe my lectures as 'death by powerpoint', but I feel the need to communicate large amounts of important information that they will need to succeed in the exam. What can I do to make the lectures work?

You will probably find this difficult at first, but you may need to cut down on the amount of information you aim to transmit during the lecture session. If the students are struggling to take in the information because of the quantity, then the approach of showing them a huge number of powerpoint slides is probably counter-productive anyway.

Take a step back. Go back to the unit learning outcomes and the assessment strategy for the unit. Is there anything in there which could be learned in another way (eg reading). Have a look at the FAQ Is the lecture format really the best way of introducing students to this material? Try to reduce the amount of information transfer the lecture tries to provide and instead focus on the question 'what will the student be able to do at the end of this lecture AND the associated study I'm giving them?' Don't be defeatist about the 'associated study' - find ways of checking whether it's been done and make sure that you link to it at every opportunity (see the Try Something section for ideas for activities which you can use in lectures to test whether work has been completed between sessions, or use online tests to check knowledge acquisition in between lectures and email students who don't complete them).

Now review your lecture slides. Be honest with yourself. Is there too much to get through? Do you tend to get bored yourself and start reading it out? You might need to restructure the lecture around outcomes rather than about content. This might make it easier for you to talk more freely about the topic, which is a lot more interesting for the audience than listening to you click slavishly through a list.

You may well be thinking "but I can’t talk like that for an hour without thorough preparation". This isn't a suggestion that you try to do that. Elsewhere in this resource we suggest that 10-15 minute 'bursts' of talking should be sufficient. Try to have around 3-5 slides during that period of time, and talk about the slides.

So now you're probably thinking "but I'll miss important things out". Yes, you probably will. But if the new purpose of this lecture is aimed at outcomes, and is linked to directed study material, then this doesn't matter. You need to tell the students

  • What it is they need to know
  • Where to get that information (which will include your lectures among other sources)
  • How you will assess whether they know it or not

A bit of reorganisation might liberate you from the tyranny of the content-packed slides and let you talk more freely about the topic and its relation to the unit and the programme as a whole.

Related external links:
Is PowerPoint evil?
Friends Don't Let Friends Abuse Power Point
How NOT To Use Powerpoint By comedian Don McMillan

 


Technology

What do I do if the computer/overhead projector/microphone etc don't work?

It's always a good idea to expect that this might happen (even if it rarely does). Arrive a few minutes early so that you can test things. This can be difficult if you have a tight timetable but it would be better to finish the preceding session five minutes earlier so that you have time to do this, rather than rush to the next session and get into a panic. Bring with you something that the students can be doing if there is a technical problem: for instance, you can write a problem or a question on the whiteboard and say that they can spend five minutes working on this (alone, in pairs, or in small groups – see the section on interaction) while you try to sort out the equipment.

If you are going to an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar equipment, make an appointment with the IT Service Delivery Team via the IT Helpline (ext 4646 or email it.helpline@mmu.ac.uk in advance and ask them to show you how it works. This is time well spent!

Each lecture room should be equipped with a notice saying who to contact if things don't work. Don't spend a long time checking everything over (apart from obvious things like "is it plugged in?"). Contact the IT Services helpline (ext 4646) as soon as you have a problem and get the students working on something else while you are waiting.

If the equipment you need to use cannot be fixed by IT Services then you will need to decide whether to do something different or to cancel the session. This is difficult to do on the spot; so again, a bit of advance 'what-if' planning is a good idea. If you do have to cancel then try to fix a time to replace the session then and there, or set a meaningful task for the students to do instead of the session and explain clearly how you will be monitoring its completion.

 

I don't have a powerful voice, but I don't like to be stuck behind the lectern near the microphone, what can I do?

A little time spent with colleagues from your IT Service Delivery team will pay dividends here. Simply call the IT Helpline (ext 4646) or email it.helpline@mmu.ac.uk. Make an appointment to see them and go through your options for amplification in the various rooms you are timetabled in. A radio microphone should let you move around the room and still be heard.

 

When I ask questions and someone at the back answers, nobody else can hear.

You have two options here. If you can hear the people at the back alright (which is often the case because of the acoustic properties of lecture rooms), then you can simply repeat the answer or question which the person at the back has given.

If you can't hear them either, you may need to move up to that person, listen to what they say, then come back to your fixed microphone at the front to repeat it. In this situation, you should try to plan a technical solution for the next time - a radio microphone which can be moved around the room. Contact the IT Service Delivery Team via the IT Helpline (ext 4646 or email it.helpline@mmu.ac.uk) to arrange to borrow a radio microphone suitable for passing around the room. You can carry this around the room yourself, or, if you would prefer to remain at the front, nominate an assistant from among the participants who will take the microphone to the person you indicate. It may take a couple of sessions before everyone gets used to it, but once they accept it as a normal part of the lecture the microphone will be used efficiently and sensibly.

 

Should I use Powerpoint in lectures?

If you want to, yes of course you should.  PowerPoint is simply a presentation tool and its effectiveness in the context of teaching and learning is dependent upon how you use it.

Dawn Nicholson actually asked this question of both students and staff in her department, and produced a very useful analysis which concludes that yes, staff probably should use Powerpoint, but that there should be regular discussion about how it is used and what facilities are available in the teaching rooms to support this.

In the paper Dawn also gives some good examples of how she uses Powerpoint to build visual information up slowly and to support interactions. She has converted these to resources in the 'try something' section of this resource - see Use Powerpoint to build understanding and Use Powerpoint to support voting.

The following links provide some insight into the pitfalls and the potential advantages of using PowerPoint:

 


General

What do I do if all the students sit at the back and the front half of the room is empty?

Ask them to move! At the beginning of the lecture programme, explain among your other announcements that you prefer people to sit as close to the front as possible (because it means you don't have to shout, because it facilitates interactions, because it makes it easier for them to ask questions...). For the first few sessions you may need to ask students to move quickly and quietly into different places. Don't leave them to do it on their own: direct individuals to empty seats and try to speed the process up as much as possible. This will take some time, each session, but conditioning should eventually take effect and they will start to sit near the front each time.

 

Attendance at my lectures is low. Many students 'take the handouts' for their friends. What should I do about this?

A corollary to this question is "I put the handouts online and now nobody comes to the lectures". This is a difficult problem to solve once it has occurred. Perhaps the students have decided that the handout contains all the information they need and that they don't see the value of coming in person. It may be difficult to recover their confidence part way through the term. You may need to work hard to 'sell' the lectures as an important part of the learning for the unit. This might involve a bit of 'marketing' such as email or text message reminders about the week’s lecture, an offer to go through a model examination paper during the session, the promise of revision tips, and so on. Talk to programme representatives about the possible reasons for poor attendance and try to involve them in your efforts to increase attendance.

Once you've got the audience back there, you need to have dealt with the reasons why their attendance has declined and provide lectures which are worth attending for reasons other than the collection of the handout. See How do I get students to see a lecture as a learning opportunity rather than something they have to sit through to get a mark on the register? as well as the Try Something section for more discussion on creating an environment for learning.

Despite the suggestions above, don't take absenteeism too personally. Students have a lot of demands on their time and they have to prioritise just like the rest of us. The best you can do is to try to create an environment for learning which makes the lecture move higher in the list of priorities.

Read this interesting article in the Higher (20 March 2008) by a mature first year student, which starts "We'll turn up for lectures
if you treat us with respect, give us feedback and remember our names".

And of course, when they ask you "did I miss anything?", you can refer them to this lovely poem by Tom Wayman.

Extract from Did I Miss Anything

Question frequently asked by students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent...."

Tom Wayman (1994) The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver, Polestar

For the full poem, see this link.

 

A lot of talking goes on in the room when I am lecturing to large groups. What can I do about this?

See the FAQ on How do I deal with disruption in lectures?

 

Where can I get training in learning and teaching?

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