Whilst much has been written about delivery of excellent lectures to students, there seems to be a gap in the literature about starting and ending the session. I guess this is such a small thing that perhaps it does not warrant a full blown journal article with a randomised control study to compare various ways to start and end. However, having watch numerous sessions over the past decade, the start and end of a teaching session seems to be quite important, but something to which many lecturers do not give enough consideration. So two top tips:
The vast majority of lectures seem to feature the use of PowerPoint (see earlier blog post). When this is the case, the opening slide of the lecture often says very little except perhaps the title of the lecture, the name of the lecturer and perhaps the date. So all this does it to confirm to the students that they are in the right room. Otherwise, it does not offer them anything to do. So those students who have arrived on time (or even early) have nothing to occupy themselves with. It seems that these students are often those who have travelled the furthest distance to get in. Their reward – very little.
Instead of an inert slide that offers so little, why not put up a more dynamic slide which challenges to students to solve a problem or respond to a question while they are waiting for the late-comers to arrive? This also provides the lecturer with something to initiate a dialogue with the students. In this way everyone is engaged and is getting value for money.
The alternative that I have seen, is for the lecturer to be standing at the lectern, muttering to himself and looking at his watch, while the students play on their phones. So the simple message – give them something to do.
I have seen many good lectures spoilt by an ending that lacked purpose and failed to invite students to continue their learning between lectures (which of course is a much greater time period then the time spent in lectures). At the end of the lecture I have seen ‘the slide of doom’ emerge on so many occasions. The slide appears bearing the words, “Any Questions?”. Even the terminology annoys me. Of course there are questions. If not then the lecturer has failed to spark any curiosity in the subject. At least it would be better to say, “what are your questions?”. The worst thing I see is when lecturers say, “Any questions? No? Good!” Aaaarrgghh! How is that in anyway good? To have lectured to a group of students for 50 minutes and failed to have stimulated any questions seems to me to be particularly bad.
If you want to ask “any questions?”, ask it in the middle of the lecture when the students are a captive audience. To ask it when there are 90 seconds to go is translated by the students as, “time to pack up and go and get a coffee”. The result is that any announcement that follows about readings to catch up on or preparation for next week are drowned out by the commotion of packing up and checking mobile phones. At the end of the session it is much more productive to ask a question that has a definite answer. This is more likely to initiate discussion. Particularly if you have allowed for this in your timing. If the lecture is so crammed with content that you only leave a few seconds for Q+A, the assumption is that it is not real – just a rhetorical question to signify the end. You could at least revisit the learning outcomes and ask the students how they have been met in the session.
So, start with activity and end with activity. Not rocket science !