Monday, October 20, 2014

Noteworthy give and take

Some write on blackboards or whiteboards or overhead projectors; others distribute outlines or put material on PowerPoint slides, but regardless of their methods, all the professors I've observed over the past few years have one thing in common: somewhere on their course evaluations some student will complain that the professor "needs to give better notes."

Sometimes they'll get more specific: if the professor uses blackboards, they'll demand handouts; if she switches to handouts, they'll demand PowerPoint; if she uses PowerPoint, they'll demand that she record all her lectures and make them available online. Trust me on this--I visit a lot of classes and read a lot of course evaluations, and I rarely see a professor who does not frequently receive a request to "give better notes."

If I could give every student everywhere one small piece of advice, it would be this: Professors don't give notes; students take them.

Except when they don't.

This happens often: I'm standing in front of a class explaining in great detail some essential concept that I've written on the board, and then I casually mention that I would not be at all surprised to see this concept on an upcoming exam, and then I pause silently as two-thirds of my students dig deep into their voluminous backpacks to locate pen and paper so they can write down this essential concept while I stand there wondering why they haven't felt the need to write anything down before this point.

And you know those students who demand that important concepts appear on PowerPoint? I do that--not often, but a few times each semester I'll put together some interesting words and pictures to show in class and I even and pop the presentation into Moodle so students can review the information later on, but the nice thing about Moodle is that it provides usage details so I can see how many students ever go back to open that PowerPoint, and the numbers are pretty discouraging, suggesting that you can lead a frosh to PowerPoint but you can't make her think.

So for students who really want to succeed in challenging classes, I offer this advice: take notes! If the professor talks quickly, write quickly! If your writing muscles have become atrophied from disuse, practice! If you can't figure out which material is important, ask! In class! Or during office hours! Take some initiative--don't just sit there waiting for "notes" to fall out of the sky!

(I hope you've been taking notes on this. There's a quiz at the end.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post is right on target. Absolutely love the line: ... "you can lead a frosh to PowerPoint but you can't make her think."