3 Building on lectures and student support

What do you expect your students to do to build on the lecture? What support do you offer them and how can this be provided in a cost-effective way?

3.1 Work for seminars and tutorials.

Typically, lectures are directly related to seminars or tutorials and it is worth stressing the importance of carefully integrating the two. You will need to address the following questions.

  • How much time do you want students to spend on follow-up private study after the lecture before coming to the seminar? This should be made clear to students, so that they can maximise the benefits from the seminar. It is unwise to assume that students will know what is expected of them.
  • Do you want to refer back to material or activities in previous seminars? If you do, this is likely to give students a greater understanding of how the course is structured.
  • Do the seminar questions directly relate to the material covered in the lecture? Here you will need to decide whether the lecture material needs reinforcing through seminar questions or whether the seminar could be used for follow-up work, such as examining policy implications. For example, a seminar following a lecture on fiscal policy could involve students preparing a Budget based on information provided to them beforehand or examining the details of a particular Budget.
  • If you are going to use various short activities in lectures, including diagram and table manipulation, completing proofs, etc., does this enable you to do more creative things in seminars? For example, you could reduce the amount of 'drilling' in seminars (such as going through numerical exercises) and increase the amount of debate on policy issues (see chapter on seminars).
  • Do you use some of the time in seminars to allow students to ask about points they did not understand in the lectures? Do you actively encourage them to do this? If so, are there any other ways of achieving the same objectives that you might consider using, such as discussion boards to which you reply or student self-support groups (see archived chapter on VLEs)? These alternatives could release seminar time for other activities and prevent them becoming in part a repeat of the lecture.

It is impossible to give answers to these questions that are appropriate to all circumstances. For example, the most appropriate answer will depend on the nature of the learning objectives and the type of work students are expected to undertake outside of lectures and seminars. However, it is important to stress the need to integrate the lectures and seminars and to use each to complement the other.

3.2 Online materials

Posting materials, such as lecture notes and copies of PowerPoint slides, has become commonplace. These could be within a virtual learning environment (VLE), such as Blackboard or Moodle, or on the course web-site, intranet or shared drive. If learning in lectures is to be an active experience for students, you will need to have a clear strategy for the use of these materials. If they are too detailed and follow the lecture very closely, they could be seen as a substitute for the lecture by the student. You may well want them to be so, thereby giving students greater flexibility in their modes of study. In this case, however, you will need to address the issue of students merely downloading the materials and not actually using them, but being lulled into a false sense of security that they can use them ‘later’.

Online materials can support student learning more effectively if they are integrated with the seminar programme and related to assessment. If your course is in a VLE, you can use its features to organise the materials within the scheduled programme and, if you choose, make them available for only a specific period of time. This can provide an incentive for students to access the materials shortly after the lecture.

More creative use of online materials as a follow-up to lectures would include interactive ‘study guide’ questions. For example, if you were covering a particular model in the lecture, you could set a series of questions online for students to test, consolidate and deepen their understanding of the model. These questions could be multiple choice, problems or manipulating graphs. You could choose whether to make the answers available online. Question sets are readily available, whether through the Economics Network question bank, the Economics Network links to resources section or from textbook publishers’ sites or electronic resources.

If you are using online study guides, you will need to decide what incentives there will be for students to use them. How closely will you link them to assessment? Will you encourage students to work in small groups and what are the incentive mechanisms for encouraging them to do so?

Lecture capture

Many lecture theatres nowadays are equipped with the facility for recording the lecture. The simplest form is a recording where the audio is what you say and the visual is whatever is presented on the screen, perhaps just from the lectern or your laptop computer, but perhaps also from a visualiser or interactive whiteboard. Another form is similar to this but with the addition of a ‘talking head’ of you, which appears in a small panel on the screen when the students play it back. When no PowerPoint or other image is displayed on the screen it can be set up so that just the image of you appears in full screen.

Students can access the recording through the module VLE or intranet and play it back in their own time. Normally you can choose when to make the recording available. You might make it permanently available – at least until the end of any resits – or you might prefer to make it available for just a short time after the lecture to encourage students not to get behind.

The advantage of lecture capture is that students can revisit the lecture as many times as they like until they feel they have fully understood it and/or have a comprehensive set of notes. It is also a safety net for students who have missed the lecture, say for reasons of illness. What is more, it allows students to concentrate on understanding during the lecture and not to worry too much about noting everything down.

A possible disadvantage is that lecture attendance will fall as students know that they can always access the lecture online. Where lecture capture has been used, however, most lecturers report that attendance has not fallen, but rather that students see the live lecture and the recording as complements, not substitutes.

The handbook chapter, Creative uses of in-class technology, looks at lecture capture in more detail.

Flipping the lecture

The practice of ‘flipping the classroom’ has developed in many universities and colleges, especially in the USA. In the context of lectures, the flipped classroom is where the lecture is recorded in a studio or empty classroom, or in the lecturer’s office or home, and the students access it and watch it in their own time. Alternatively, the lecturer may select online material for the students to watch or read, which may be in the form of podcasts of lectures in the public domain. Or it could be a mix of the two.

Having watched the material, students then come to class – which might be in the full-sized lecture group – and have an interactive session. This can involve exercises, problem solving, case study work, role playing, etc. The session may be in the form of a workshop (see case study 2) where students work individually or in pairs; this is more suited to a traditional fixed-seating lecturer theatre. Alternatively, it could involve small-group work if the room has loose chairs and the students can move around.

Flipping has proved particularly suitable for many US courses, where often there are solely large classes rather than separate lectures and seminars. This allows work done in class to be more interactive and for deeper learning to take place. In the UK system, however, it is less relevant, given that interactive learning can take place in seminars/workshops – if appropriately designed (see the handbook chapter on Seminars), especially if the lectures themselves also contain interactive elements.

Nevertheless, the advent of facilities to record lectures and to integrate external materials within them does give universities greater flexibility in allocating both staff time and rooms. One way in which flipping could take place would be for all the lecture materials to be pre-recorded and for the ‘lecture’ sessions to be used solely for workshops on more technical issues and for the seminars to concentrate more on debate and policy issues.

Recording of lectures in the studio/office/empty classroom, which could be of varying lengths to suit the material, is particularly suitable for courses which use problem-based learning. This is examined in the handbook chapter on Problem-Based Learning.

3.3 Use of interactive facilities in VLEs

The use of VLEs is discussed more fully in a later chapter, now archived. This section provides a brief overview of possible links between lectures and a VLE.

Discussion boards

One useful mechanism for encouraging students to make full use of their learning in lectures is to set up a discussion board. This is easy to do in a VLE. Alternatively, you could set up a Facebook page specifically for your module. But even a conventional email list can serve the purpose. You can post questions on the lecture that follow on directly from its content and students would be expected to respond. For example, if the lecture was examining market failures, the discussion could be based on particular examples of market failure and possible policy solutions. You can ‘require’ students to make a set minimum number of contributions. You can log their contributions and decide on an appropriate encouragement or ‘penalty’ for students who do not contribute.

If you do set up a discussion board or Facebook page, you will have to decide what students can expect of you. If you merely ‘pump prime’ it and then expect students to make all the contributions, it can be relatively undemanding in terms of your time. If used in this way, it can be a very useful mechanism for promoting a culture of mutual self-help. It is important that students clearly understand what use they are expected to make of the medium and what your role is.

Chat rooms as virtual seminars

As an alternative or addition to using a discussion board, you could set up a chat room in a VLE. Students could log on at a particular time and you could choose whether or not to lead it, merely start it off or not be present at all. The virtual seminar could last for a set length of time or could be open ended. The advantage of the former is that it requires a clear commitment of time by the student and is seen as something structured. The open-ended seminar has the advantage that it can continue as long as it is valuable to the remaining students.

Either way, the seminar can be seen as a discussion session on the lecture, whose purpose is to help students to sort out problems they may have. These may be simple questions of clarification or they may be issues of contextualisation or application. Alternatively, you could start the seminar by giving some follow-up material from the lecture – an example, case study or problem – and posing the students some questions based on it.

To get the students used to using the chat room facility and to the protocols for ‘synchronous’ debate, it is a good idea to hold the first of these seminars in a computer lab with you present to answer questions about how to use the facility and to ensure that people are contributing. Thereafter, students can take part in the seminar from any computer with Web access.

It is important to recognise an important limitation of chat rooms: they have poor graphical and algebraic facilities. This makes them unsuitable for technical discussions. They can be excellent, however, for exploring policy implications and for examining issues where there is scope for differences in opinion. They can also provide a medium in which shy students can feel comfortable in contributing, especially if you allow them to use an alias, with their true identity known only to you.

If one of these virtual seminars is held after each lecture (in addition to normal face-to-face seminars), it can significantly deepen students’ learning from the lecture and make them feel that they have an opportunity to contribute.

If you have time, you can post edited ‘highlights’ from the seminar. Failing this, you can simply leave the contributions on the site for students to revisit in their own time.

For a more general discussion of virtual seminars and how they can be used, see the case study, Use of Virtual Seminars in Economic Principles, on the Economics Network site.

Follow-up questions by students

You could encourage students to contact you if they have queries about the lecture. If you do not want to answer the same question over and over again, then you could again use a discussion board or Facebook page with a ‘frequently asked questions’ (FAQ) section. Once you have answered a question and posted the answer, then you will not answer the same question again, even if asked by a different student. The students would be expected to consult the FAQ section to check that any question they ask you has not already been answered. This can save you a lot of time and is very useful for encouraging a culture of self-help in learning, rather than students simply expecting ‘to be told’. An FAQ section could be substituted for half of your office hours and you could dedicate the released time to answering the online questions.

Top Tip 10: Encourage students to answer questions posed by other students after the lecture on a discussion board. You need only intervene if the students were not working their way to the 'right' answers. This is a mechanism for encouraging self-help.

3.4 Assigned work

Assigned work: private study

Rather than merely expecting students to follow-up the lecture by reading or working through questions, you could assign them work to do. If you are not assessing this assigned work, whether summatively or purely formatively, you will need to provide incentives to encourage students to complete this work.

You could emphasise the intrinsic benefits of the work in helping them to improve their understanding and, thereby, their final grade. You might also emphasise the development of subject-specific and generic skills that will be of benefit to them later in their studies or in their career. The use of log books or a system of personal development plans/portfolios (PDPs) would help to encourage this more holistic and reflective approach.

The assigned work could help students to prepare for the next lecture. For example, if in the next lecture you are going to develop a theory that you have introduced, you could set students a couple of case studies that put the theory into an applied context or set a couple of problems that require the students to use the theory. For example, if you have been looking at Keynesian goods market analysis, or IS/LM or IS/MP analysis, and were planning to look at fiscal policy in the next lecture, you could get the students to study particular features of the last Budget and how they relate to projections made in the government's Budget document. This type of work can help students to see how the lectures are linked. It is useful to pose one or two questions at the beginning of the next lecture to evaluate this work. These could be in the form of multiple-choice questions, e.g. on a Powerpoint slide. A show of hands would be a simple way of checking how well the students had answered them. An audience response system is a more sophisticated approach (see Case Study 1 below).

Assessed work: formative and summative

There are several ways in which lectures can be linked to assessment.

First, students’ understanding of the material may be tested directly. A seminar shortly after the lecture could begin with an objective test, a short essay, a problem, or a case study.

Second, the lecture could be directly relevant to an examination or formally assessed assignment. Students are likely to be motivated by the knowledge that a specific lecture covers material directly relevant to a question posed in the examination. However, while this might be an effective means of getting students to attend the lecture and to concentrate, it could encourage surface learning if it merely provides an opportunity for students to regurgitate material. If deeper learning is to be encouraged, then students would need to know that the form of the assessment will require them to apply, rather than reproduce, the understanding gained through the lecture.

Third, students’ lecture notes could be assessed. This could form a small part of summative assessment, if clear marking criteria have been given to students. Alternatively, students could read and provide written comments on each other’s notes. This commentary could then be assessed. This approach provides benefits to students through the commentaries they receive from peers and the reflection on note-taking that the assessment encourages.

Fourth, each student could be asked to provide a commentary on one lecture which would be distributed to other students and formally assessed. The number of students commenting on each lecture would vary according the size of the lecture group. Once students have prepared their commentary they could be disseminated through a VLE, Intranet or shared drive. You could require that word processed notes should have appropriate diagrams and tables in PowerPoint or Excel, pasted into the document. With a large lecture group, you could assign some students to act as editors of the notes. These types of activity not only encourage students to take a more reflective approach to their learning in lectures but also help to develop précis and critical skills. They also signal the importance of lectures and provide useful feedback to you.