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GDP Session 4: Getting the most out of lectures and seminars

We are now more than 6 weeks in to the programme and students will have
experienced a variety of lecture presentation styles. Given the emphasis in traditional
pedagogy on formal lecturing it is probably worth taking time to clarify the role and
limitations of lectures and other taught components of the programme – and to re-
emphasise the importance of reading and active learning. Reflecting on the various
teaching and learning activities will also provide a useful opportunity to evaluate how
the programme is going - encourage your group to give relevant feedback (which in
turn can be fed back to me).
This will also be an appropriate opportunity to arrange times for 1:1 tutorials and
distribute copies of the Key Skills Assessment form.

Session aims

• To review students’ experience of the course so far.
• To discuss the role of lectures and seminars in the Programme.
• To highlight the importance of appropriate preparation for and consolidation of
lectures and seminars (including clarification of the status and requirements for
the S&T seminar log).
• To discuss approaches to taking notes.
• To prepare students for 1:1 tutorials

Suggested activities

Experiences of lectures so far…
Ask the students to share in pairs or threes, their experiences of lectures so far.
Then, in the whole group ask them to feed back the salient points.

(Issues might include: variations in lecture format, lecturer style and approach, level
of difficulty, quantity of information, level of participation possible, handout provision
and format, guidance on and availability of background reading, the number of
students involved…)

The place and role of lectures
Ask the group to consider what they think the role of lectures should be – how
important are they in the overall process of learning about Psychology?

Emphasise the limitations of lectures – they are useful as a medium for introducing a
topic or area and giving a general overview. They may also be helpful in explaining
challenging concepts and ideas and getting the message across to large numbers of
people all at once. However, they are not an efficient way of communicating large
quantities of information, which is done much more effectively in printed form. (I
remember, when on my PGCE course, hearing the lecture being described as
“transfer of information from the lecturer’s notes to the student’s notes without any
processing going on in between”). However, it doesn’t have to be like this…

Getting the most out of lectures

• Preparation
Ask the group how much preparation they have done for the lectures and what they
think are the benefits of reading relevant material beforehand?

(Clearly some priming or previous familiarity with the topic will lessen the cognitive
load during the lecture and will make it easier to concentrate and take better notes)

• Active participation
Ask the group if they think it is possible to actively participate when they are part of
an audience of 200+? How do you keep yourself involved?

(Emphasise that taking notes should enable them to actively engage with what is
being said. So do not slavishly try to write down every word but listen to the
argument and try to focus on the key points.)

• Consolidation
Ask group members what they have tended to do after the lecture? Do they just file
the notes away or do they revisit them and tidy them up or add to them? Do they use
them to identify areas for further reading?

(Emphasise that the amount and depth of processing and elaboration of the material
may significantly influence future understanding and recall. Encourage them to
review their notes, identify gaps in their understanding, and follow up with additional
reading where appropriate.)

• Countering the “lectures are boring” complaint
It could be conceded that some lectures are more entertaining than others. However,
the most diverting are not necessarily the most informative; and the primary reason
for being on the course is not to be entertained! This point could equally be made in
response to gripes about the set reading.

Approaches to note-taking
Ask the students, in pairs or threes, to share their approaches to note-taking. If they
have examples of their notes to hand, encourage them to share these with their
colleague(s), noting differences and similarities in approach, format and detail. Also
ask them look for differences in approach between different lectures and modules.

Feedback: Ask the group for comments about what they have found. What are the
factors that have influenced the organisation and level of detail of the notes – is it the
handout format (e.g. PowerPoint slides), the lecture style, the preferred note-taking
of the individual?

Draw their attention to the examples in the handout from The Good Study Guide by
Andrew Northedge.

Participating in seminars
Lectures involving large groups are inevitably rather one-way affairs. Emphasise that
this years seminar programme was introduced (partly as a response to feedback
from students) in order to provide more opportunities for discussion and exploration
of course material in smaller groups. It was also envisaged that provision of seminars
would encourage students to do more reading.
Try to open up some discussion around this issue: do group members think this
strategy is effective? Would they read less if there were no seminars and more
lectures? Do they feel actively involved? Inevitably, some group members will be
contributing to seminar discussions more than others – ask those who are quieter
why that is. What would encourage them to get more involved?

The Social & Theoretical Psychology seminar log
(This information will also be posted on Blackboard)

• This is part of the module assessment but it will NOT be graded.

• Pass or referral will depend on the basic criteria being met.

• There should be TEN entries in the log.

• Each should consist of a MINIMUM of 150 words in prose summarising the
author’s understanding of what they consider to be the key issues raised in the
reading and discussed in the seminar.

• There is nothing to stop students composing more extensive entries. These could
be valuable writing practice. However, developing the skill of writing concisely is
also important.

• Attempting to summarise and explain unfamiliar and complex ideas in one’s own
words is widely recognised to be a highly effective form of learning.

• Students – particularly those who are not confident about their academic writing
skills – should be encouraged to seek informal feedback from their tutor on
selected pieces from their log. This could form part of a 1:1 tutorial.

• This assignment was intended to encourage attendance at the seminars, and to
encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Organising tutorials
The concluding part of the session could be used to organise appointments for
tutorials in and around “Guided Study” week. Ask students to sign up for your
available slots and distribute the Key Skills Assessment forms. Ask them to complete
these and bring them along to their tutorial.