Are lectures/sessions worth it?

Ideas for my waffles come from a variety of sources, sometimes it is something someone says to me, or something I have heard. Other times ideas just spring into my mind and I decide that I need to write about that. Most often than not, it is something which I read that actually gets my thoughts a-racing and motivates me to get waffling. This week it is something which I have read a while ago which I logged for a future waffle which has subsequently been supported with another article which I read this morning. With semester two well underway, lectures and workshops are appearing once again in both mine and the students’ timetables. As the frequency of these increase, the question is always raised – are they worth actually attending?


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Back in December, I read an article within The Guardian with the title “Is missing lectures harming my studies?” It was really interesting reading this and the comment that the learner had ” – with that I decided to abandon my lectures altogether. I have not regretted my decision” somewhat disappointed me and made me wonder about the students attending my sessions. Although the article was interesting the comments below were even more insightful and definitely worth a read if you have the opportunity. This morning, before I headed off for this blog writing session, I was prepping some articles for Wilson Waffling Live and came across an article about the emails that a lecturer had received from students about their non-attendance. Remaining positive is not always the easiest task and, rather than waffling about missing sessions, I wanted to waffle about the reasons why attending, in my view, is always beneficial.

  • We all feel like not going -I remember attending university. I studied a split degree, similar to the American system of majoring and minoring in two subjects, on a campus which was split across four sites, with a ‘university bus’ being the main form of transport between the sites. Often I would wake up knowing that I had to catch the bus from my site across to another site for just two hours of biology. Thoughts such as why? why me? is it worth it? why not just stay in bed? definitely went through my mind and I’ll confess that sometimes they got the better of me and I didn’t attend. I’ll just pause while you pick yourself up off the floor…Looking back on the sessions I missed I am not proud of missing them and I do think, with hindsight, that I might have been capable of getting a first (..pause again if you thought I would have got a first) if I had attended and engaged more fully within sessions. Sessions for me are like attending the gym. Every day I have the same feeling and a multitude of reasons and excuses flood my mind. If I actually get myself there, although I hate almost every minute of it at times, I do know that I have benefitted from the experience and I do – every now and again – actually enjoy it. Hopefully you won’t actually hate taught sessions at university as much as I hate the gym but I am sure that you will benefit from them.

  • Do you know what you are missing? – Staff meetings can be the bane of teachers’ lives at times. Usually at the end of the day, sitting listening for one or two hours about new information, fast approaching OFSTEDs and changes to the curriculum is never good at this time of the day. Agendas for these and any meeting can be both beneficial and detrimental. Apart from providing a list of items which can be slowly ticked off to provide an impression of how much longer you will be in the meeting, they also give you an idea, beforehand, of the topics which are going to be discussed. Module handbooks provide the same function for modules, with the learning and content being identified before the session. This might be interpreted as the possibility of assessing whether you need to attend the session or not, in a similar way as looking at the agenda for a meeting. Although this does include the content for the session, what it doesn’t include is all the other content which will be discussed. What do I mean by this? Well, sessions are not just the tutor standing at the front and preaching. They involve interaction and questions and, in my sessions, stories – I mean case studies. The discussions which occur within the sessions are in addition to the presentation slides and are actually beneficial to developing thoughts, reflections and, in the case of hearing other people’s views, criticality. These discussions are unique to the session, rarely captured and are definitely not written in the module handbook. So, echoing the title of this section – do you really know what you are missing by not attending?

  • Independence and Learning – I mentioned earlier that sometimes I can be disappointed or actual dislike my gym sessions. There is nothing worse when you are working very hard to achieve something and, no matter how hard you appear to be trying, there is little of no impact of that effort. I’m sure something should be happening to my rapidly ageing body if I am running 3-5k in the gym twice a week however, alas there appears to be no improvement! I have attended many a session and meetings within my learning journey when I have been disappointed after the event. With hindsight, this disappointment has not actually been due to the content of the session, it has been more related to my expectations of what I should have ‘gained’ from the attending the session. Learning is hard. It requires a huge amount of effort by the learner as well as the facilitator. I am sure that every teacher would agree that if there was a magic wand which we could wave and impart knowledge and develop skills in the learners then we would be using it all the time. Unfortunately, this has yet to be invented (come on Apple – you are letting me down here!), but what has been invented is independence. Within every university session, lecturers/tutors are providing the starting point of the learning for that topic. The main points are communicated and engaged with within the session, but this is just the start of the learning process. Higher Education is different from the pedagogy which abounds within primary and some secondary systems. The emphasis within higher education I would like to think is not on preparing you for exams and/or assignments, it is about providing learners with a starting point to expand their understanding. If you are attending a session expecting to be taught then I think that is like me attending the gym and expecting to receive the perfect physique by the time I leave. Attend the session to gain a starting point for a new area of study, to communicate with others, to work collaborative and perhaps the most important reason, to reflect and establish a starting point for your own personal learning.

  • My head cold is providing a real barrier to my blog writing at the moment and I hope that this waffle has not come across too disjointed and confused. In summary, attending sessions is essentially down to the learners. Registers can be taken and attendance monitored but whether your truly attend sessions in body and mind is up to us/you. Before deciding whether to attend a session or not remember the following points – you don’t know what you will be missing, it could be the starting point of something which you find interesting and even, dare I say it, inspiring and, the final point from my foggy, cold filled brain, learning is like life, you get out of it what you put in.

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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