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Saturday, October 19, 2013

University students: Then and now - Part 1

I was a university student in the 1990's. Things were very different then. Today, I am a university lecturer, and as such, it is only inevitable that I jot down this observation. This is part 1 of an as-yet-to-be-decided length of posting on this topic.

#1: Taking notes
There were three types of lecturers back then (at least the ones that I encountered). First, a lecturer who literally gave a lecture - no notes, no slides, only a list of books as references at best. Second, a lecturer who used the blackboard. Yes, a blackboard. Whiteboards were expensive back then. And third, a lecturer who used slides and the OHP (that's overhead projector, for the uninitiated). The OHP was the state-of-the-art technology for lecturers in the 1990's. Regardless of the type of lecturer that you get, students would have to take down notes. If the lecture is a full two or three hours, that would be two or three hours worth of note-taking. Of course, you could always compare notes with your friends, just in case you missed something. Students would try their very best not to miss lectures because of the fear of missing out on things. Students would never dream of going up to the lecturer and asked for the lecture notes.

With the advent of ICT, lecturers these days would use PowerPoint presentations. Some would opt for the use of a visualiser. Of course, there are whiteboards as back-up, just in case there are technical difficulties. Lecture notes and slides are usually put up on e-learning portals. Students virtually has no need to take down notes. They just need to attend the lecture and listen. There are also students who have taken the initiative to download the notes and bring the notes to the lecture. They would then highlight the important points or even jot down some extra points given in the lecture. Some would record the lecture using their smart phones. If there are some important slides which the lecturer purposely did not include in the notes uploaded on e-learning portals, students can just as easily take out their smart phones and snap the picture of the slide. Some would upload the picture on Facebook in order to share the information with their friends who did not attend the lecture. Some even more daring students would come up to the lecturer and ask for the softcopy of the notes (even when the notes are already up on the e-learning portal).

My observations:
1. Note-taking skills are almost non-existent among students today. Most are unable to listen and write at the same time. Even more absent is the ability to distil the information given in the lecture, and discern what is important and what is not.
2. Technology is a good aid in teaching and lecturing. As a lecturer, I find technology to be very useful to both lecturers and students. However, both sides must be smart and wise in utilising technology. Over-dependence on technology can be problematic. One apparent problem is that some students feel that they should be "spoon-fed", and there seems to be no effort on students to look for information themselves.

Regardless of the advances in technology that we have today, I think note-taking skills are still very important. This is one skill that one has to have, and this should be present in students today. Whether one realises it or not, note-taking skill is crucial when one enters the real world. Unfortunately, technology has rendered this skill unimportant. 

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