What are lectures really like?

Lectures at university can be quite different from lessons at school and college, particularly when you are taught in a big group. This article will help you to make the most out of lectures.

Background

It’s hard to know what a lecture is like until you’ve been to one. Even if you’ve been to a public lecture or sample session as part of visiting your university, it’s not quite the same as the real thing because people behave differently at those events and you don’t often have to take notes.

How could this affect me?

Keeping up with note taking, being in a big group and dealing with sensory stimuli can be both challenging and exciting – just like the content of lectures themselves. Many students really enjoy lectures as it’s a chance to learn more about a subject you’re really interested in from an expert in your field.

What to do next?

Think about issues that may arise in lectures and the coping strategies that could be put in place to overcome these

Practical tips

Making notes

  1. You can’t really write down everything that is said, even if you have amazing shorthand skills. Though developing your own shorthand and abbreviations isn’t a bad idea (see this Guardian article).
  2. It’s difficult copying exactly what’s on the slides – they are often uploaded to the virtual learning environment (DUO) and most lectures at Durham University are recorded and available on the Encore system.
  3. Try to write what you think about the contents of the lecture, reflectively, as well as the main points of what is said.
  4. Mind-mapping, either via software on your laptop or drawn by hand, can be a really useful way of showing how ideas are linked and might suit your way of thinking better than writing down full paragraphs or even bullet points. If you are eligible for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), you may be recommended specific mind-mapping software, based on individual need, to promote mind-mapping and note-taking

Timing

  1. Lectures don’t always start on time, but it’s better to assume that they will. If you can, arrive early as you will not miss anything and you can get settled before it begins.
  2. Sometimes being late is unavoidable – while some lecturers don’t allow latecomers, they should tell you in advance if this is the case. Just come in as quietly as you can – it might feel intimidating at the time, but most people are not going to mind and it’s better not to miss out completely. The same if you need to leave earlier than planned.
  3. Other students may well arrive late or need to leave early themselves. This can be distracting, but it’s okay to do this at university, as everyone has things going on outside the course.
  4. If you arrive too early for your session, the previous lecture may still be going on, and/or you can get caught in the crowd of people leaving. If you can, spend some time around your lecture theatres close to lecture changeover time and familiarise yourself with the timings and where entrances and exits are.
  5. If you have time, go to the loo first! It sounds obvious and embarrassing, but lectures are often two or three hours long and not all of them have breaks (and if they do, there can be queues). You don’t want to be thinking about it throughout the session or having to run out at the end.
  6. If you are one of the first people into the lecture theatre, you can choose where to sit – you might like to sit on the end of a row near the aisle so you can get out quickly if you need to leave.

“I left lectures, if the commotion became unbearable.” (student,  Autism&Uni surveys)

If sitting near the front helps you to concentrate, grab a seat there.

Signing in

Lectures and seminars tend to have sign-in sheets (some universities are moving to electronic systems, but most haven’t), so make sure the sheet gets round to you and you pass it on to the next person. If you don’t catch it during the lecture, go to the front of the lecture theatre or seminar room at the end.

Question time

  1. There will often be an opportunity to ask questions in a lecture – either the lecturer will ask if there are any questions during the session or there will be specific time left aside for this at the end. Write your question down and save it for later.
  2. You should only ask a question publicly in a lecture if you think everyone in the session would benefit from hearing the answer. This is quite hard to get to grips with. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask things that are more personal to you and your understanding of a topic or assignment, it’s just that you need to either ask privately at the end of the lecture, email your lecturer or arrange an appointment with them.

Telling the lecturer about your autism

“In first year I missed a lot of lectures and also would sometimes have to leave during one as I would have severe anxiety due to having to sit surrounded by people, not moving and often in a room with no windows and unnatural light. Lecturers were aware this could be the case and so did not mind and knew I was not being rude.” (Fern, final year student, Autism&Uni interview)

It can be beneficial to tell your lecturers know (in person or via email) that you are autistic and how it affects you – even if you think they already know. Read the rest of Fern’s interview in the Student Stories section and take a look at the article relating to telling people about your autism.

Questions to think about

  1. Do you prefer to read handouts online or on paper? If you like to make notes on paper you will need to make time to print these out beforehand
  2. What helps you to focus on someone speaking, like a lecturer, when a lot is going on?
  3. Do you feel comfortable asking the lecturer to use the microphone if everyone else says they’re OK without it or the lecturer starts speaking quietly? If you don’t feel comfortable doing this while the lecture is underway, could you mention this beforehand or send an email to request this
  4. If you need to leave a lecture early, either because you have an appointment or you need to go somewhere quiet for a while, you may need to think about where you want to sit. Arriving early could be beneficial
  5. Does your lecturer and fellow students know that you are autistic? Do you think it might help if they did know?