Traditional ‘chalk and talk’ lectures can undoubtedly provide an efficient mechanism for transferring important information to students. However, thinking time and effort are required to interpret and link new information with what is already known. As students are continuously required to take notes during these lectures, they are likely to find difficulty in simultaneously concentrating on the concepts being developed. Although, in the past, many students may have believed that they learned well in lectures, it seems likely that it was subsequent activity, such as neatly rewriting their barely legible scribble or discussion with peers that provided the real learning experience.
While the use of hand-outs or web material containing a synopsis of all important points to be covered in a lecture can free students to concentrate on the ideas being presented, this places them in an even more passive role and is therefore unlikely to be conducive to efficient learning. Such material can, in fact, often take on the role of a security blanket, with many students apparently believing that possession of the hand-out, rather than a working knowledge and understanding of its contents, is what is important. Thus, far from increasing student engagement, this approach will often lead to poor attention to the lecture presentation and even encourage poor attendance at classes. However the use of hand-outs that contain gaps to be filled in during the course of a lecture can remove much of the distraction caused by continuous note taking while still keeping a class actively involved.
The success of the approach depends critically on the provision of gaps at points where thought and possibly clarification or class discussion are likely to be helpful to the learning process. When preparing such hand-outs it is therefore useful to start with a complete hand-out and then identify the suitable places for gaps. An occasional gap may be provided to introduce variety into a lecture but, in general, gaps should occur where a student’s concentration needs to be focused on specific points. Gaps can also be constructively used to incorporate schematic diagrams to illustrate, for example, molecular structures, orbital splitting or reaction mechanisms, or to introduce brief problem solving exercises into a lecture. In the latter case student participation and learning is likely to be enhanced by encouraging peer discussions through the formation of ‘buzz groups'.Incomplete hand-outs should not be based on a particular book or article, though students should be encouraged to consult appropriate texts, as fuller understanding is likely to result when students encounter different presentations of the same topic. It is preferable to leave too much space rather than too little in the hand-outs. Students can then be encouraged to add comments of their own after reading references or text books.