Lecture notes and lecture not notes

While browsing a certain social media site recently, I saw that a colleague (who I’ll keep nameless for now) had posted a photo of some of their lecture notes.

I mention this because my lecture notes don’t look anything like that. And they might not look like yours either (or maybe it’s just me).

This is one of those topics that we never discuss, probably because we’re all too scared to find out the reality of the situation. Just as there isn’t any standard for taking notes in lectures, there’s no standard in making notes to give lectures.

The colleague’s approach is really good in many ways: it provides all the detail and indications on what to emphasise, plus connections to slides. I am genuinely impressed by it all.

So why don’t I do it?

So you know, I’m very much at the other end of the spectrum with my notes: some headings and key points; elaboration of details where it’s absolutely necessary, but mainly I don’t know what I’m going to say, exactly, until I say it. It’s also why my slides tend to have very little text and usually just some big visual images.

In my eyes, that gives me a lot more flexibility to adapt to students’ responses as we go: we can unpack things that weren’t clear, speed through what’s already nailed down, and so on.

Of course, there’s no right answer on this and we each make our own way through these questions. But it’s still useful to consider the choices we’ve made, especially when we probably haven’t even thought about making them.

As a starting point, we have to think about what’s best for our learning objectives.

I once did a two-hour lecture with just one slide and no notes, but that was for an adult education class who were only there to have informal chat about the topic. I’d not do the same for a university group, especially if I were making it part of a bigger collection of teaching materials. Form follows function.

Secondly, you need to think about what works best for your relationship with your students. I’ve not seen my colleague teach, so I can’t speak to how they work their classes, but I know that I tend towards a lot of interaction and active learning, so lecture notes probably can only be a starting point.

And finally, you need to check back in on this kind of thing from time to time.

Yesterday I had to record a video asset for one of our undergraduate modules, which as essentially down to me having some questions throw at me to speak to. I had a vague sense of what I wanted to cover, but nothing specifically. When I get the rushes back from the editor, I might have to revisit whether that’s the right strategy, given how the asset with be used, in a highly-structured online environment.

In the meantime I’ll await your comments BTL about how I could possibly have let my lecture notes get to the sorry state they are in.

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