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Lectures: large-group teaching and learning
For many staff in higher education, lectures or large classes
are a central part of their teaching. They’re also the ‘public’
part - seen by students and often by others. Even if you’re new to higher education teaching, you’ve probably done something similar before. For example, you may have given presentations at conferences, which in many respects could be thought of as a similar experience.
Actually, giving conference presentations can be even scarier, as the audience is likely to know a lot more about the subject than is typical of students in a lecture.
However, most people  nd the prospect of giving their  rst lecture quite daunting. The thought of an hour under the spotlight seems like a long time! In practice, even though many institutions timetable lectures for one-hour slots, it’s rarely an hour in practice, as it can take a few minutes to get everyone settled into the room, and it is necessary to have the venue ready for the next class in reasonable time by the end of the allotted session. It’s worth planning to be  nished  ve or so minutes before the session is due to end, to give your class
time to leave, and the next class time to take their seats in time for the start of their session. (That said, there is a tendency for teaching to be structured in larger-slots in some areas- and a two-hour or even three-hour session may be in your sights - but don’t panic - the last thing one should do in such circumstances is stand and talk for all that time!)
In former times, students were expected to make detailed notes of things you said, wrote on boards or showed them on screen. Nowadays, this is much less likely to be how students treat your lectures. At Heriot-Watt, we have technical facilities available in many venues for lecturers to record their lectures using classroom recording software, so the students can see replay the slides alongside the audio and, if available, the video again at will. Students may well use their mobile devices to take photos of
your screen now and then as a way of capturing key points - this is worth bearing in mind when you design slides or images you plan to show, to ensure that what students capture will indeed be useful to them. Some students may even record audio or video bits of your lectures on their phones - and there’s no feasible way of stopping this without resorting to draconian measures. It could be best to explain to students that they may only use recordings they make for their personal study, and it would be regarded as unacceptable to share them on social media.
It can still be useful to encourage a small amount of student writing to occur during lectures. For example, now and then, you could give them a couple of minutes to make a summary of the key points you’ve been talking about - they may well do this on their mobile devices rather than on paper. It can then be useful to ask them to compare their summaries with students sitting close to them, and add to their own any interesting or important points that they may have missed.
For more information on the use of lecture capture software to support teaching and learning, please contact your learning technologists within your School or the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Services team.
Depending when you yourself last studied in a formal context, your idea of ‘a lecture’ may be quite some distance from
what students expect nowadays. Not only has the associated technology developed considerably, but student expectations have changed signi cantly. A notional one-hour lecture doesn’t boil down to 60-minutes’ worth of formally presented ‘content’. Remember in each class the intended outcomes need to be introduced and then de-briefed, and your class needs to settle in, and leave. So, we’re normally thinking about no more than say 50 minutes for the ‘delivery’ part of your large group session. But in practice, 50 minutes is too long for you to ‘deliver’ and too long for your students to ‘receive’. Concentration spans are much shorter than 50 minutes. In fact, ‘delivery’ alone doesn’t usually work very well at all, and for student learning, the best lectures are much more interactive.
It is better to break your lecture down into some shorter elements, for example no more than 1O minutes at a time of you talking to your students, interspersed with getting them to do things, for example making decisions, discussing particular ideas with their neighbours, asking you questions, answering questions you ask them, and so on. Already the scary prospect of giving a one-hour lecture is much more manageable - all you need to do is to manage a few episodes of talking to your students, and intersperse a few episodes of them doing things (giving you the chance to catch your breath, regain your composure, and plan exactly what to do next).
It is good practice to explain to your students what they should be getting out of the large group session. Often, the design of a programme or course will already be expressed in terms of such outcomes, and for a lecture you will normally need to focus on just a few of these. However, the learning outcomes as written into programme documentation are sometimes not particularly clear. For example, they may be expressed in rather vague terms such as ‘students will deepen their understanding of...’
To start a lecture well, it is much better to be able to say to the students: ‘by the end of this lecture, you’ll be able to ...’ and then to list three of four things your students should be able to do by the end of that particular lecture, as a direct result of being there and
of the experience you have designed for them. There are all sorts
of active verbs and phrases which help to clarify what ‘understand’ may have meant in the published versions, including ‘explain’, ‘discuss’, ‘argue that’, ‘compare and contrast’, ‘prove that’, ‘describe the origins of’, and so on.
In practice, it is better to present the intended learning outcomes for a particular lecture a few minutes into the event, so that all of your students have got there and settled in. It can be useful to spend the very  rst few minutes recapping what you have covered in previous lectures while latecomers arrive, and until the class is settled. If, of course, you’re about to give the very  rst lecture in a series, you need to do something different, for example, gently quiz your students to  nd out how much they may already know of what you’re about to start teaching them. You could, for example, issue the class with two Post-it Notes each, one yellow and one pink,
and ask everyone to jot down the most important thing they already know about the topic on the yellow one, and one question they

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