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What is different about teaching and learning at university?

In this video, students from the University of York share their thoughts on how learning at Uni is different from what you've experienced before.
I think for me the biggest difference was the fact that there seems to be a much larger focus on learning and progression in your field rather than getting the grades, but least with me, when I was doing my GCSEs and A-levels, there was definitely a focus of ‘you’re learning this to get a good grade in the exam’ and of course you know you learn things and you grow as a person and you learn about your field when you’re doing those things but they definitely is an atmosphere that, like you go to a lesson because the thing that you’re taught in that lesson might be on the exam, but for me at university it was very different, you go to a lecture because you want to learn about this thing, because you’re interested in it and you might get a job in it.
So you probably heard that there’s seminars and lectures at university, so seminars are groups of about 15 people and lectures can be groups about to up to 150 which is obviously really different from what you’re used to. But the transition isn’t so hard and you get used to it pretty quickly and obviously it’s also really novel and exciting and everyone is in the same boat so yeah, it’s not too bad. Especially on my course I don’t get set assignments or homework, it’s very much left up to you and you can make the mistake of thinking that the reading all the work is recommended extra stuff and not completely essential.
In truth, it is completely central and you’ll really fall behind if you don’t do it. So, it is entirely self-led in that you aren’t set ‘go and read pages X to Z In a textbook, you do go and do all the research yourselves, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t supported, so the academic staff are there to help you, and to guide you in the right direction, but the work is done by you. It’s also really important to think that actually you are given a lot of freedom. When you’re at school. What are told what to write about, you’re told what you want to go away and look into.
University is a lot more ‘Oh, I have freedom to go and look into what I want to research’ and because we’re all in a community doing exactly the same thing, everyone Whether they are staff or whether they are academic people or whether they are just peers around you, we are all there as a community to support each other, and bounce ideas off everyone else. If you ever have any questions, do not be afraid to approach a lecturer because they can actually end up explaining things to you in a way that you really clearly understand and they always love talking about their subject, they are very passionate in it. So always make sure to ask questions and don’t feel afraid to.

In the video above, you can hear some of the students at the University of York talk about what is different about learning and teaching at university.

Coming to university is likely to mean that you are learning in new and different ways. On a university course, you will attend different types of learning sessions, referred to here as contact events and led by tutors on your course. These include lectures, seminars, tutorials and problem classes. The types of contact events you’ll do will depend on how your course is structured and the subject that you are studying. Some courses are more likely to have practical and problem classes for example, whilst others will have seminars.

Contact events: Lectures

Lectures are a type of learning that may be new to you. Most subjects will have some lectures each week, attended by a large group of students and usually held in a lecture theatre. Lectures are delivered by a lecturer and are often used to introduce new concepts, to explore links between different concepts or topics, and to guide your independent study. Lectures are not there to give you all of the information you need for your assignment, or to give you the ‘right’ answers.

Lectures can be led from the front, with the lecturer presenting for a lot of the time, but you will still need to be actively involved. Some lecturers will ask students to actively participate in the lecture, for example by discussing questions in pairs or small groups or by using apps on your laptop or phone to take part in polls or to respond to questions.

You will also need to be actively taking notes during lectures, to make sure you get the most out of them. Most universities will record lectures using lecture capture software, and may also make the presentation slides and notes available for you to download. This means you don’t need to write down everything the lecturer is saying word for word. When you write your notes, focus on the key learning points from the lecture and make notes for yourself about the areas you would like to follow up on in your self-directed study. This could be books or articles you want to read, or concepts you want to find out more about.

Contact events: Seminars, tutorials and problem classes

You will also take part in seminars, tutorials or problem classes. The format of these smaller classes will depend on the subject that you are studying. You will be actively participating in these sessions, and will be required to prepare for them in advance as part of your own independent study, and then discuss a question or problem in the session. There may not be one correct answer to these questions or problems, as they are designed to encourage you to work together to consider different perspectives and to develop your own opinions.

You may be asked to work through problem questions in advance of the session, revise a topic or read an article or book chapter. You will often work in sub-groups within the class of around 5 or 6 students. It is important to do the preparation for these classes, so that you can join in the discussion and get the most out of them.

What else?

In the next step, we will look at some particularly key elements of university learning that are not classified as contact events but are crucial to your studies and skills development more generally.

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