Take note of notable exceptions 1

April 15, 2005

I fear that Frank Furedi's opposition to pre-releasing lecture notes and handouts ("I refuse to hand it to them on a plate", March 25) actually prevents students developing as independent learners and does little to help higher education institutions widen access and support diversity.

I agree with many of Furedi's points. But I do not believe that producing handouts or making lecture notes accessible to students dumbs down the material or reduces it to the level of the "The Idiot's Guide to Plato".

As a study skills adviser, I see students who work with pre-released lecture notes and handouts in very active and creative ways. These include using them as a framework for mind maps that they later use for revision; to set themselves questions that guide their reading on a topic because reading is encouraged when students know what information to note down; to compare with learning outcomes to ensure they focus on the right areas for revision and essays; and as discussion points for study groups.

This is the active learning that academic staff do not always see: students making sense of course information and personalising it so they can make use of it in the most effective way. It is also the case that institutions that do not make course material accessible to students with special needs run the risk of losing such students.

I do not think it is helpful to anticipate the worst behaviour from students and assume that they want "ready-made answers". This has never been my experience. Yes, there will always be students who want to do less work than others and those who prefer not to attend lectures, but this has always been the case with or without pre-released lecture notes and handouts.

Sarah McCarthy
Study skills adviser
Exeter University

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