"It helps if you get the notes before the lecture and then you know what they are on about. They assume you can read and listen to them at the same time."
Students with various impairments often express anxiety about using lectures in their learning. So do many other students.
In traditional lectures, if transmission of information is the aim, then how students receive that information will be important. First of all, they have to be able to receive it. Then they have to be able to record it in a way that is appropriate for them. This resource section will concentrate on the role of lectures to transmit information, while the next resource section will have relevance for more interactive methods.
Students need to know where the lecture is going to be held and need to be able to get there.
"You get lectures moved quite considerably and they put things like that on the department computer screen. Because it flicks, I can't read the whole screen before it flicks to the next one."
Clearly there are a great many reasons for students being unable to attend, and among these, relatively few associated with students' impairments.
Some lecture theatres can be very crowded, with some students being accommodated in additional rooms using a television relay system. This raises questions about the appropriateness of the teaching accommodation and supporting technology for the intended aims of the lecturer, when class size, overcrowding, background noise are some of the difficulties which all students can face as they try to receive information.
Many departments now provide a safety net for students unable to attend lectures in the form of lecture material presented on the department's web pages, or made available in the library. These alternative ways of enabling students to receive information can be as effective as lectures, where the purpose is to disseminate information.
While writing notes is not possible for some students with some impairments, writing notes might not be the most effective way for many students to derive maximum benefit from a lecture. Many students might benefit from study skills training in e.g. note-taking.
"If you say to them that they are going too fast, they say, well you're not supposed to copy everything that I put up on the overheads, but you are supposed to take notes from my dictation. I find that difficult."
It can be very beneficial for students to go into the lecture tuned into the context of the lecture before hand. Providing students with a framework for following the lecture, such as copies of overheads, (which could be available on the department's web-site) which the students are then able to annotate or supplement, is one way of doing this.
"In ideal terms, you get a structure. They'll be giving the lecture, talking, and there'll be overheads up as well and a lot of the time they are using their own notes as headings for points for themselves, understandably, to follow the actual presentation. But common sense dictates that if too much emphasis is being put on reading them then how the hell is ANYONE supposed to try and copy it down if they are literally reading it off the board? ANY student would struggle in that respect, unless some students are much faster than others in taking notes."
However students record information from lectures, they are likely to want to refer to them, at a later stage. The distinction is sometimes made between taking notes and making notes. Some students may 'take' notes in lectures, and 'make' notes later, that is, actively process or work with, the notes they have taken. All students can benefit from advice about ways of 'making' notes. Mind-mapping either with pen and paper, or with a computer, is found to be useful by many students, particularly those who prefer to organise material in a visual rather than textual way. Lecturers vary in what notes they expect students to 'take', and students who are exposed to many different lecturers are likely to be helped by individual lecturers about what they think students should do with the notes they have 'taken'.
Attendance at lectures for students who use wheelchairs or have some other mobility impairment depends on whether the lecture theatre is accessible. Where this is a problem, the solution can be to relocate the lecture. Not all lecture theatres are equipped with tables accessible for students in wheelchairs. Many lecture theatres allow people in wheelchairs little or no choice about which area of the theatre they can use. In some lecture theatres, access for people in wheelchairs is only at the back, and this is really unhelpful for people who have an additional impairment of hearing or vision, for example, or who simply want to sit alongside friends. It is also worth bearing in mind the possible impact of overcrowded lecture accommodation on students who experience panic or anxiety in such conditions.
Accessibility of information about the location of lectures for some students with impairments might mean additional consideration. For example, students who use wheelchairs will need access to notice boards, in accessible locations, at accessible heights. Students with some visual impairments will be unable to read standard print notices or department handbooks or timetables. Students who have hearing impairments can miss verbal announcements about lectures.
Students who are reliant on taping lectures as a way of receiving information will need a translation of visual material into an auditory form. Some thought needs to be given as to the best way of conveying information from diagrams, graphs, charts and other complicated visual material.
Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may need to lip-read, and if this is the case, then the lecturer's face - or the face of any other speaker in the lecture theatre - needs to be visible
"Many lecturers repeat questions asked from the body of the class to make sure that everyone heard the question."
Spot-lighting may be needed for lip-reading (and sign language interpretation) when the room is darkened, e.g. for showing slides or video. Where students use the services of a lip-speaker or an interpreter, such educational support workers are likely to need short breaks during the lecture. They may also need help with provision and positioning of seating.
Both student and signer or lip-speaker will derive great benefit from being given an outline of the lecture material beforehand. Signs for new terminology need to be devised in advance: signs for specialised vocabulary such as 'heterocyclic compounds' or 'hermeneutics' do not simply roll off the hands!
In general, it is helpful to supplement aural information with visual information for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to supplement visual information with aural information for students who have a visual impairment.
Students with a range of impairments, such as those who are dyslexic, visually impaired or manually impaired may want to record information by taping, or Brailling. Referring students to a web-site will be useful if the information there is designed to be visually accessible, and if the student has the appropriate equipment or software for reading it. Some lecturers are happy to provide students with disk or hard copy of lecture material, or of copies of overheads. Provision of these can enable students with some impairments to devote more attention to listening.
"You can't always rely on lecturers to give you copies of overheads. I am having problems with a department just now who are giving me copies of overheads, but not the ones they are using in lectures! "
Taping lectures is not always an unqualified success, unless the student develops a system for retrieving information from the tapes, perhaps by tone-indexing the tapes, or by carefully cataloguing or labelling the tapes, and keeping a record of the main ideas of the lecture. Taking home tapes of lectures for transcribing at a later stage can be very time-consuming, and students who do this may benefit from advice from lecturers about whether this is likely to be a successful strategy for study.
"I found that with four hours of lectures in a day I could not for the life of me sit and play the tapes back."
Seminars and tutorials offer students the opportunity to engage actively with the subject. It has been suggested that successful tutors create an informal atmosphere, involving everyone without undue pressure and encouraging students to invest effort in preparation and discussion. Tutors may perceive the main function of a tutorial in different ways:
The smaller numbers of students usually involved in tutorials and seminars will mean that a tutor can become more aware of individuals.
"Small group tutorials are very useful because you can ask questions and get information about what you need to read before you read it."
It also means that tutors can check with students about whether the tutorial is achieving its purpose, and whether there is any way in which students' involvement in the tutorial is being helped or hindered. Some tutors do this by asking students to record in a notepad questions they would like addressed at the next tutorial. Smaller numbers also mean for most institutions that it is easier to relocate to a different room where there are reasons to do so.
Unless it is the purpose of the tutorial to assess students' ability to respond spontaneously to freshly presented material, it is likely to be helpful for all students to be given adequate time between tutorials to prepare, by reading, researching, or preparing questions. While some students find it much easier to engage in active discussion than to write about issues, others can find the setting stressful, and have to work hard to become able to contribute. Opportunity for students to prepare can help many students.
Copyright: The University of Strathclyde 2000
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