Introduction

Why use a handout?

When not to use handouts

Distribution and Timing

Types of Handout

Alternatives to handouts

General Principles on the production of handouts


Introduction

The topic of handouts has arisen because of the huge photocopying bills incurred by some departments and the need to find some alternative resources to the ubiquitous handout. Some students have come to rely on handouts, instead of making their own notes, reading or listening or even thinking. We do not want to encourage too much passivity in students by the overuse of this resource: we want them to take away their own notes. This seems an opportune moment therefore to rethink its usage.

A handout is a paperbased resource used to support teaching and learning which can free students from excessive notetaking or supplement information not easily available elsewhere. Ideally it should aid learning and may increase attention and motivation and help students to follow the development of an idea or argument. The first task therefore is to clarify the aim in using any handout. The desired outcome will affect the information, its quantity, presentation and, crucially, when you distribute it.

Handouts come in several guises and I am going to focus on those most commonly used. I will discuss how to produce and use these effectively and list their advantages and disadvantages.

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Why use a handout?

A useful question to ask is "Why am I using a handout at this point of the session?" Is this material freely available elsewhere? Have I checked to see if this information included in any text book recommended for the module/course. How do I know students will read this (weighty) material, unless I provide time in the session and I can actually see them reading?

 

There are several reasons for using a handout. It can:

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When not to use handouts

 

 

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Distribution and Timing

 

Do the students need to prepare by reading the material in advance of the session? 'If so, hand it out the previous week do not use up precious lecture time on having students read long or complex handouts. If read in advance, students can/should bring questions to the session that they want answered.

 

If you want the students to read a short handout during the session which supplements the content of the lecture/session, time the distribution carefully (you don't want to compete for their attention while you are making key points). Make sure that at least they do read it by posing some questions or small group activities which relate to the passage. This will help test their understanding.

 

If you delay the distribution till the end of the session, or give it to students to take away to read, how will you know if it ever gets read? Consider posing some specific questions which the students should be prepared to answer the following week. Advantages: supporting detail can be covered which was omitted from the session; provides further tasks for the students to undertake (reading, answering questions) again this helps to test understanding. Finally, only you can decide when is the optimum time to distribute the handout, bearing in mind the comments made above.

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Types of Handouts

 

Advantages:

  • the handout contains key points which will be the same for all students;
  • the student has to listen actively to complete the notes;
  • it spares student tedious notemaking and thereby should generate greater concentration on the lecture;
  • partially provides correct information but relies on the students completing the information either from the lecture itself, or from further reading thus removing the passive element in a situation where all the information is provided.

Examples:

  • complete the plotting of a graph
  • complete the labelling of a diagram (Note: complicated diagrams are best provided on a handout rather than an OHT)
  • under a heading, ask students to complete half a dozen lines of notes.
  • incomplete calculations which the student must finish.
  • complete a flow chart for a process.

 

 

 

Advantage:

  • essential information is given to all students and is available for reference.

 

Advantage:

  • essential information is given to all students and is available for reference.

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General Principles on the Production of Handouts

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Alternatives to Handouts

 

 

 

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References: