Improve Your Lectures

You rarely meet a tutor who doesn’t want their students to get the most out of lectures. But while it’s easy to say, ‘improve your lectures’, what exactly does that look like in practice?

There has been a great deal written about the ‘death of the lecture’, and even whether a traditional lecture is appropriate in 21st century universities. So it’s important to have a clear idea of just how flexible you can be with your teaching in a lecture. Just because you have a class of 100, 200, or even 300 students, it doesn’t mean that your only option is to simply stand at the front and talk at students.

The following video presents some simple strategies for making a lecture more engaging for your students.

Common issues in the lecture theatre

Students don’t ask questions: When given the opportunity to ask questions in the lecture, there is little response, but at the end there is a queue of students seeking clarification. Reasons for this might be that:

  • students don’t want to risk feeling exposed by asking a ‘stupid’ question
  • the lecturer has overloaded students with content without giving them time to digest it
  • the students don’t want to imply that the tutor’s explanation has not been clear
  • students believe that it is inappropriate to question the lecturer’s position

What might you do? You could consider using some or all of the following techniques:

  • make sure you ask an open-ended question for every slide that you put up, e.g. ‘how do you feel about…?’ or, ‘what do you understand by…?’. Don’t be afraid to leave an uncomfortably long silence – it’s important to give students enough time to think and respond.
  • provide students with a handout containing explanations of all technical terms, acronyms or topic-specific words and phrases. It’s all too easy to assume that your students are following your lecture, but how can you be sure? If you ask the question, ‘does this make sense?’ you will almost always be met with a stony silence. If you use any ‘familiar’ expressions or colloquialisms, make sure you take the time to explain these.
  • every ten minutes, put up a question on the board and give students a few minutes to discuss it in pairs or small groups. This gives them the opportunity to explore a concept or idea without having to ask a question in front of the whole class. After a few minutes has passed, ask a representative from each group to summarise their discussion and raise any questions that came out of it.
  • use a range of materials to help convey your message – these might include documents, pictures, audio and film clips, objects, posters etc.
  • clearly outline the structure of the lecture at the start including all activities and breaks. This enables students to construct a mental overview of whereabouts in the lecture they are and what is coming up next.
  • ask students to take a scrap of paper and write down a question about your lecture so far. This gives them time to reflect on what you have been saying and identify areas that they might not be sure about. It also gives you an idea of the areas of your lecture that require further clarification.
    Collect up all the questions and read some of them out, then invite students to offer responses – the fact that the questions have been generated by the students can make them more inclined to offer an answer. If any questions remain unanswered, consider posting these online and asking students to respond before the next lecture – you can then begin the next lecture by summarising their responses.

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