Chemistry lectures: then and now

While I have been preparing for my latest set of lectures, on Quantum Chemistry and Statistical Thermodynamics, I have been reflecting on what ‘preparation’ involves now. The lectures are given as PowerPoint presentations, the students can download the notes in advance, and this year, for the first time, I’m, recording my lectures, and the recordings will also be made available (but only to those who attend!). This is a considerable contrast to when I started lecturing in the late 1980s, when I would turn up and write things on the board. All I needed then was my notes, and some chalk.

The question is, are things really better now for the students? Comments?


6 thoughts on “Chemistry lectures: then and now”

  1. I think things are definitely better for students now. For those willing to invest the time, there is immense benefit to previewing lecture notes and being able to go back to a video to hammer home a point that might have been missed in lecture. These opportunities were simply not available before.

    And it is nice to have the luxury of skipping class (to sleep, do homework for another class, whatever). I know you say the recordings will only be available to those who attended class in the first place, but I imagine truants will be able to get access from friends who showed up to lecture.

    Regarding the added work of having to make the PowerPoint slides vs. using chalk, at least it is a one-time investment and you can use them for years to come.

  2. Yes, I think. I know a few students, that on their way to home listen the lectures again using their players. But students must understand that making notes is now also very important. As in time someone makes notes he think about the making some structure for the information that he had heard. But maybe making notes in leptop or in Ipad are now more actual 🙂

  3. Paul – I agree that there are many advantages to the way things are now. But taking notes in lectures is a useful aid to understanding and learning, and that seems to be done very rarely now. I think something has therefore been lost there!

    Olenka – I agree that students need to understand that taking notes is important, but I don’t see it happening in my classes much! I like the idea of someone listening to my lecture on the way home (:!

  4. In my experience as a student who experienced PowerPoint based lectures (in chemistry) and ‘old-style’ board and OHTs (in physics), I would say I got more out of the ‘old-style’ ones.

    This is probably mainly because in PowerPoint lectures it is very easy to only half pay attention and not engage with the material, which is impossible in lectures where you if you want the notes you have to listen, follow and write notes. I also believe that, in some cases, lecturers relying on PowerPoint and other modern resources can become half hearted themselves. Standing reading the information on the slides without fully engaging with the material in the same way a lecturer would have to if they were writing on a board from notes, doesn’t encourage the student to enthuse with the material.

    Content of the lecture is also important because, for me, seeing a mathematically derivation on a slide projected onto a screen is a poor substitute to having it derived ‘live’ in front of you on the board. However, of course, some things are much better in graphic form and PowerPoint is extremely good for displaying images, animations and movies.

    On the recording of lectures, this seems a useful idea to aid learning however, I can see it being very time consuming for lectures. I’ve been to many lectures where students have asked to place a dictaphone at the front and record the lecture. This seems a more sensible solution.

  5. Unfortunately I think there’s no turning back to the ‘chalk and talk’ style of lectures that I gave for about 10 years. Last year I had one remaining non-PowerPoint course, but that’s being converted now. And on balance I prefer what I do these days. The students have a better set of notes, and I don’t get covered in chalk!

    The only thing I don’t like about PowerPoint is having to turn up to lectures loaded with equipment which you then have to set up, often to find that your laptop has decided not to talk to the projector that day! Of course, you can sometimes use a computer provided in the lecture room, but because of some of the more specialist demos I give as part of my lectures, I prefer to use my own laptop which I know has the software needed on it.

    As for recording lectures, it’s really easy and not time-consuming, thanks to the wonderful free Audacity software. But as I’ve said in my latest blog post, I’m interested in how other people go about this. I would rather give the students an approved recording of my lecture than have an array of dictaphones on the podium which may not pick up all I say as I move around (which I do!)

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