07 July 2010

On giving handouts

The link is to an account of some empirical research on the much debated issue of when to give out handouts accompanying a lecture--at the beginning or the end?
The findings provide preliminary evidence that lecturers should provide their students with handouts during the lecture. ... In no case ... did having the handouts during a lecture impair performance on the final tests. Even when there were no differences in final test performance, students still benefited in the sense that they reached the same level of learning with less work.
In my view it all depends on the task of the lecture, the kind of knowledge one is imparting and how one hopes that students will engage with it. The reported research relates to students watching videos of short 12-minute presentations on science topics; whether it would also go for other content I don't know. (But it is an easy project to research, and might make a useful small-scale project for students.)

I don't use handouts at all any more--I set up a blog or a web-page on which I can post not only the presentation, but also the references and links, and photos of points made in discussion written up on a flip chart or white-board. I may make it available before the session, but I invariably edit it afterwards to reflect the actual material taught.

This is more like the minutes of the meeting which actually took place rather than the session I planned to give. But that suits me because my subject areas are typically both "soft" and applied, and the discussion in the (relatively small) group is more important than the content I plan to "cover". I rarely stick to a session plan in any case, so advance notes could actively confuse the students.

It's probably more important to have a worked-out rationale for doing what you do (including telling the students what you expect of them) than doing it in a particular way.

Marsh, E., & Sink, H. (2009). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (5), 691-706 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1579

and acknowledgements to the BPS Research Digest blog for the pointer

1 comment:

  1. David responded by email but agreed to me re-posting his comment:

    "One of the things that bothers me a great deal about research on the use of handouts, or the use of PowerPoint versus overheads versus chalkboards, is that only rarely is any attention paid to the quality of these things and exactly how they are used.

    In the case of this particular study, no mention is made of the quality of the slides: were they simply bullet point list? Were they (as I have seen more frequently from humanities/social since lecturers) extended texts in complete paragraph format? Were they simply diagrams? What about the handouts? Were the slides provided complete or skeletal? Were all slides provided or only selected slides? And would the results have been the same if the students had had to sit through a full 45-50 minute lecture?

    At the recent STLHE conference I found myself singularly put off by the sheer number of presenters with terrible slides, especially since this is supposed to be an education conference exemplifying best practices!"


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