Effective teaching guide: Lectures

Version 1.0, October 2014

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Introduction

This Effective Teaching Guide on Lectures provides 7 tips and suggestions for effective university lecturing. These hints are based on a student-focused approach to teaching where the lecturer considers the students' level of expertise and sophistication, and takes into account student diversity.

A lecture is an oral talk or speech intended to provide educational information to an audience. The primary features of a lecturer are the lecturer, the audience (the student group to whom the lecturer is lecturing) and the content/material which the lecturer is 'sharing' with the audience (Light, Cox and Calkins). Learning involves changes in understanding. Lectures provide opportunities for the lecturer to stimulate students to question their beliefs and attitudes, to encourage inquiry and to experience new ways of looking at the world. Students bring their own knowledge and experiences to university teaching and learning contexts. Lectures can help students make links between new material and their previous knowledge and experiences.

Lectures can help students to be inducted into a culture of learning in an academic discipline or a field of study they have chosen. For many students, lectures provide the only way to experience an expert in a field of study who can, with skilful planning, model academic argument and problem solving, simultaneously. A lecturer may bring to the lecture the most current information from different sources, including the most recent research, which would not otherwise be available to students. Lectures also provide opportunities for the lecturer to explain and analyse concepts, problems and issues, clarify misunderstandings, and augment material that students may have in a textbook, hand-out or website.

Tips for preparing for a lecture

  • Consider the importance and context of the topic of the lecture. How does this lecture link to the previous lecture or the following lecture, to tutorials and laboratory classes, and to the subject aims and objectives?
  • Determine whether this lecture is the introduction to the topic and perhaps an opportunity for motivation, or a chance to consolidate ideas or concepts.
  • Decide what it is that you want students to learn in the lecture. Make a plan of how you are going to achieve these learning objectives. Lectures are not about 'covering material'.
  • Keep the number of main points simple: from three to five.
  • Decide whether you will write out the whole lecture, or work from an outline. Don't read your lecture notes during the lectures.
  • Decide how the main points of the lecture will be explained and illustrated. For tips on using visuals in a lecture, see point 6 below.
  • The pace at which a lecture is communicated is vital to its success. With increasingly 'crowded' curricula in many disciplines sometimes lecturers worry about how to 'cover all the material in their subjects. Focus on some of the key issues or principles in lectures and use handouts and references (or tutorials) to cover the broader material. Don't pack in too much data, and limit the use of long quotations. It's better to leave something out than to rush through the material.
  • Plan and include for diverse learners (see A Guide to Developing an Inclusive Curriculum).

Suggestions for organising lecture content

Research shows that students appear to like well-structured, well-presented and relevant lectures. At the start of the lecture, clearly specify what students are expected to learn, and be able to understand by the end of the lecture. The expectation of students should take into account the students' level of expertise and sophistication and whether there is a diverse student cohort.

There are many ways to organise the content of lectures.  Activities may be planned to engage students and maintain their interests during a lecture – these can be planned into an outline. Plan these in the lecture outline. Structure a lecture to include 3 parts:

  • Introduction - The aim in an introduction in a lecture is to arouse interest, gain attention, establish rapport, and communicate intention to students. This could be achieved by showing an outline of the lecture, as well as the objectives and key points to be made during the lecture (relate these to the subject learning objectives). Keep referring back to these key points during the lecture.
  • Main Body – Explain the main points of the lecture
  • Conclusion – Restate or review the main points of the lecture; draw implications; ask if there are any outstanding questions; give questions to be answered before the next lecture; suggest further reading on the topic; request reading to be completed before the next session; give a short quiz.

Ideas for effective deliver & student engagement

  • Link information presented in the lecture to students' prior knowledge. This could include, for example, previous course work or the common experiences that are developing in the subject.
  • Exhibit enthusiasm for the topic - your passion will show.
  • Integrate visuals, multi-media or other appropriate material relevant to the topic. One benefit in using some kind of visual display at the beginning is that it directs attention to the visual aid rather than to you. This allows you to overcome initial nerves.
  • Give a startling statistic, ask an open-ended question, or provide a hypothetical. These might relate to the experiences of the students, and to the main points in the lecture.
  • Narrate a story or personal experience, relevant to the subject matter of the lecture.
  • Pose a problem in which the students will be using the information they are to learn. See the solutions students' present – remembering that students' need to feel safe that they can make 'wrong' suggestions.
  • Vary approaches to lecturing. Focus on what students will actually do in the class. Plan for diversity.
  • Consider body language and where to stand whilst presenting a lecture. Monitor speaking rate, force and pitch. Regular eye contact with the audience can assist with student engagement. Change positions, but do not pace up and down.

Activities & engaging interactions

  • Provide a space every 15 - 20 minutes or so for students to reflect on what the presentation to assist students' to construct their understandings of your main points.
  • Have students reflect individually or in pairs, telling each other what they thought was the most important point in the last 15 minutes of lecturing.
  • Have students write down a question or comment sparked by the past 15 minutes. Questions/comments could be collected at the end of the session, as one way to provide student feedback.
  • Set a short quiz at the beginning, middle or end of the session. This could include multiple choice questions based on the information presented in the lecture.
  • Use an audience response system for quizzes to provide immediate feedback to students.
  • Provide opportunities for students to ask any questions.
  • Give students an Applications Card. Students list as many possible applications as they can for the ideas, techniques and strategies discussed up to a point in the session. (Source: Angelo & Cross 1993).
  • Get students to work in together in pairs or groups to discuss a specific topic or problem within a set time limit, e.g., 3 minutes. This could relate back to the information in the handbook, or to practical experiences.
  • In large lecture classes students tend not to answer questions, however question and answer sections are an effective way for students to interact and to retain attention. Use open, rather than closed questions.
  • Give students time to prepare answers, preferably in small groups. Groups rather than individuals, are more likely to speak up.
  • When a student asks a question, move away from the questioner, and acknowledge the student at this greater distance. This forces the student to speak up and to address the question to the class. Repeat a student's question. This invites the class as a whole to consider the question and come up with their own answer.
  • Avoid moving in the direction of nuisance questioners. Moving towards these students has been found to be a prompt for even more nuisance questions!
  • Make it a routine procedure that students write down questions to answer. Collect them, group them and answer them in the next lecture.

Getting them asking questions

  • In large lecture classes students tend not to answer questions, however question and answer sections are an effective way for students to interact and to retain attention. Use open, rather than closed questions.
  • Give students time to prepare answers, preferably in small groups. Groups rather than individuals, are more likely to speak up.
  • When a student asks a question, move away from the questioner, and acknowledge the student at this greater distance. This forces the student to speak up and to address the question to the class. Repeat a student's question. This invites the class as a whole to consider the question and come up with their own answer.
  • Avoid moving in the direction of nuisance questioners. Moving towards these students has been found to be a prompt for even more nuisance questions!
  • Make it a routine procedure that students write down questions to answer. Collect them, group them and answer them in the next lecture. 

Lecture support materials

In a large class, well-designed and inclusive support materials are essential. Support materials can include visual materials; whiteboards/chalkboards; overhead projects; website pages; PowerPoint slide; videos/films/slides; handouts; student notetaking.

Using visual materials in a lecture

Visual materials might be used in a lecture to introduce the lecture, or parts of it; to provide visual examples of the material; to present complex material; to stimulate interest, thought or discussion of a topic; to provide variety (and contribute to attention and interest); or to summarise or integrate the ideas presented in the lecture. When preparing visual materials, key questions to ask are:

  • What is the purpose of the visual material?
  • Can students see / read the material?
  • What do you want students to be doing while the material is displayed?

Using PowerPoint in a lecture

PowerPoint can be useful in a lecture to allow students to interact with the subject material, and for the purpose of producing slides, handouts, speakers' notes and outlines. Sometimes, however, there can be problems and issues with PowerPoints – for examples, lecturers who read the text from the PowerPoint or when there is too many words on a PowerPoint. The pace and sequence of the presentation can also be dictated by the PowerPoint and sometimes students do not attend lectures because they have access to PowerPoint. When preparing PowerPoints, some things to consider are:

  • Use at least a 24-point font
  • Try to limit the material to 8 lines per overhead
  • Summarise the main points
  • Use easily read fonts. Simple fonts like Sans Serif and Ariel. Don't use italic fonts
  • Use dark letters on light (or transparent) backgrounds for overheads. Light letters (yellow or white) on a dark background (eg, dark blue) for slides or LCD projectors
  • Keep it simple. Less is more.

Using handouts / manuals / webnotes

An important consideration in preparing each of these for your lecture is to clarify its purpose and its relationship to the lecture. How should students use them during a lecture? Handouts or manuals can give factual information before the lecture to ensure students have a basic background before the topic is elaborated or developed in the lecture. Some suggestions include:

  • Release time for discussion or for thought about the application, the validity or the relationship of the material to other topics;
  • Relieve the pressure of the crowded curriculum
  • Provide a guide to the lecture. This can be particularly useful if the lecture is complex to save note-taking.

Student note-taking in a lecture

Think about when and why students should take notes in lectures. Let them know. The benefit of note-taking includes:

  • to aid memory during the lecture
  • to aid revision
  • to see the developing structure of a topic
  • to relate and reorganise during further study
  • to select what is important
  • to know what has to be learned
  • to maintain attention Bligh, D. (2000)

Student feedback

Student feedback will assist in determine the effectiveness of teaching. When teaching, take time to observe the students' non-verbal communication in the lectures such as eye contact, note-taking, response to your questions or humour, seating patterns. Do they seem to be 'with' you? What will you do if they are not? Other methods of gaining feedback include having students:

  • Write down what they think are the 5 main points or the 5 pivotal issues addressed in this lecture (Orrell and Gannaway, 2001)
  • Write down the main idea of this lecture in one or two sentences.
  • Use a 'one minute' reflection at the end of the session to ask, What stood out as most important in today's lecture? What are you confused about?
  • Conduct a more formal evaluation of your lectures.

References

Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques, San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers.

Biggs, J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham, Society for Research into Higher education, and Open University Press.

Bligh, D. (2000) What?s the Use of Lectures? San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Edwards, H., Smith, B. and Webb, G. (2001) Lecturing: Case Studies, Experience and Practice, London: Kogan Page.

Gibbs, G., Habeshaw, S., and Habeshaw, T. (1992) 53 Interesting Things To Do In Your Lectures, (4th edition) Bristol: Technical and Educational Services.

Mosteller, F. 1989 The "Muddiest Point in the Lecture" as a Feedback Device, On Teaching and Learning: The Journal of the Harvard-Danforth Centre, 3, pp 10-21.

Ramsden, P. (1992) Learning to Teach in Higher Education, London: Routledge.

Gould, L. Guidelines for Preparing Effective Presentations, Based on a Roundtable Discussion led by Professors Mary S. Schriber and Susan Deskis and a letter to the editor from Betsy Bowden in the Spring 2000 (32:1) edition of the MLA Newsletter.

Acknowledgement

This resource has been developed by LTLT, La Trobe University.


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