Student perspective

"Labs allowed me to implement the knowledge I gleaned from lectures and provided a friendly, supportive environment to discuss the subject with my course-mates. Never be worried to ask your peers or demonstrators a question during labs, the discussion it provokes is often more insightful than any textbook! For me, lab work was the most enjoyable part of my degree."

– Nas Andriopoulos 
   Imperial College Union President
   2016-17

Teaching at university will not be as structured as you are accustomed to but through a combination of lectures, tutorials, group work, practical classes and lab work (depending on your subject), there will be lots of ways to learn.

labwork

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Lectures

Lectures form the basis of teaching at university. They are the main opportunity for the tutor to introduce you to the key concepts, theories, research and literature surrounding particular topics. As such, teaching takes place in very large groups - some lecture theatres hold up to 300 students.

Learning outcomes or objectives are generally provided for each module and often for each lecture so you should be able to keep track of your own progress.

All lecturers have different styles of teaching - some will work through presentations that have been prepared and provided in advance, some will spend a lot of time writing on a board or projector to illustrate theories or problems, and some will mostly talk and use demonstrations. How your lecturer presents the information will influence how you learn and capture it.

Lecturers who use prepared slides may leave gaps in the slides for you to complete during the lecture, so that you can solve the problem and write down the solution for yourself. In these cases you should be able to get hold of a copy of the slides, or a handout. Having access to the slides should mean you need to take fewer notes, affording you the time to think and question as you go along, listening out for the main line of argument and other important points.

Some lecturers don't use handouts, but will write everything on the board or projector or use lots of demonstrations. Don't just write down everything - listen to what is being said and think about what the key points are. If you do need to write everything down, don't be afraid to ask the lecturer to slow down, you need to make sure you understand what is being presented.

Often, there will be resources to support lectures on Blackboard and many lectures are recorded on Panopto, so you can always re-visit the information later if you need to. The College’s Audio and video lecture recording guidelines‌ are available online; please read for more information, including the rules on sharing of recorded materials.

Tutorials

Teaching in tutorials can be less structured, and are often led by the students more than the tutor. Tutorials involve learning in small groups and they allow you to explore topics in more detail, and to discuss, question and challenge the subject with your tutor and your peers. It is really important for you to participate in tutorials so that you can develop your thoughts and ideas, and and enhance your learning experience.

Typically tutorials:

  • Encourage active learning and feedback;
  • Improve self-expression;
  • Allow time for some ‘hands on’ practice.

Tutorials work best when everyone in the group participates. You may be asked to prepare work in advance, or to read about a lecture topic and discuss it.

Try to ask questions, even if you think everyone else knows the answer - you may find that other students have similar concerns and questions, and you can use your tutorials to share and compare ideas. Tutorials are also a good opportunity to discuss and express your ideas as they will help you grow in confidence with public speaking, presenting and speaking the ‘language’ of the discipline.

To get the most out of tutorials, you need to participate. Find out more about effective team work and asking questions.

Practicals

Laboratory Work, Practicals and Field Work

Practicals are more about learning than teaching - they give you an opportunity to apply the information you may have heard and discussed in lectures and tutorials. Labs are very hands on, so there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions and get support if you need it.

Practical work may be lab-based, computer-based, or may involve clinical practice or fieldwork. No matter what the ‘lab’ is called, they all involve practical skills which will take time to master, so do not miss out on the opportunity to develop these skills. For most students this is a key part of learning.

You will receive relevant advice about the environment in which you work – for example, your laboratory tutor/ demonstrator/graduate teaching assistant (GTA) will be able to give you detailed help on a range of practical skills which you will be expected to master during your degree. Some practical skills may be directly assessed but in most laboratory classes you will have to conduct a series of laboratory tasks satisfactorily and gain results that you will write up in a lab report. These results will be checked before you leave the lab and it is your responsibility to ask if you do not understand why your results are not be the same as those predicted. You will also need to be able to discuss the errors inherent within the method.