A conversation after the lecture today has led me to think once again about something I’ve been wondering about for a few years. At University, students should develop to become Independent Learners, responsible for their own learning, being active learners rather than passive receptors of knowledge.
Now, if we think students should become Independent Learners, we should treat them as such, surely? Currently I am trying to work out where I stand between these two extreme points:
- We should not give students lecture notes because it means they won’t come to lectures and it is bad for them.
- We should trust students to be mature enough to use lecture notes and any other material to their best benefit, and if they don’t, then it is their problem and not ours.
I am currently sort of leaning towards the first position, but definitely not at the extreme point (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing blog posts, I guess). But one argument today is starting to veer more towards the second position. Not putting up lecture notes might “benefit” those students who haven’t yet realised that going to maths lectures is an extremely good way to learn (for most people). But not putting up lecture notes also disadvantages those people who put a lot of effort into understanding a course and might be helped by this extra resource.
Now we could ask: which group needs more help? Which group is actually larger? I would hope that in Cambridge the second group is larger, those people who do put a lot of effort into learning because they have chosen to study maths because it interests them.
We are often accused in Cambridge that we only cater to the top 10% or top n% (the n varies in different people’s perspectives) of students, and don’t look after the people who don’t find themselves at the top of the tripos (but are still amongst the best mathematicians in Britain). My blog is meant to cater for both those groups: to give more help to understand lectures, by summarising the important points and suggesting ways of working at understanding it, as well as leading those who want to a little more deeply into connections with other subjects (often only studied later on).
I have a colleague at UCL who said that when he (for the first time) didn’t give out lecture notes, the attendance and participation at his lectures went through the roof. I’d like to hear more on that before I entirely make up my mind. But I am starting to consider whether I might make my lecture notes available to students after the lecture course has finished. Though… that means they will be in circulation and next year’s students will get them before the course… So I have to decide whether I think that is a bad thing or not.