Getting the Most From Lectures and Presentations

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

Many instructors and professors stress the importance of taking notes and retaining information from lectures and presentations. However, many students are unsure of how to take notes effectively.
For students who are blind or visually impaired, the challenge of note-taking can be compounded by a lack of access to visual aspects of a presentation which clarify the points or illustrate the concepts being discucsed. This article presents some tips for taking good notes, getting access to visual information, and using your notes for effective study.

Taking Quality Notes

Taking notes seems like a daunting task to some students, regardless of whether they are blind or sighted. Many students feel that they must write down every word of a lecture in order to make sure they have access to the correct information. Most students cannot do this, however. Therefore, it is important to be able to identify information which is vital to the presentation or which is likely to appear on an exam or a quiz. Later in this series, some strategies for planning for tests will be provided, and you may find that these help to improve the quality of your notes.

If your instructor or professor has provided you with a list of key terms or a study guide, reviewing it often will help to guide your decisions about what to include in your notes. Repeated exposure to the terms or questions will allow you to become familiar enough with them that you can be alert to their use in a lecture and write down information about how they are presented.
Important terms may be presented in a list and then identified. An answer to a study guide question may turn up in a rambling monologue which you would ordinarily tune out because it was difficult to identify the main points.

Some professors begin classes with an overview of what will be discussed that day or in the coming week. These overviews provide an excellent framework for organizing your notes. If you can write down a brief summary of the plan for the presentation, you will be able to plan your note-taking style and organize your study time later. Some presentations lend themselves well to an outline form.

Others lend themselves to lists or charts which you can create later as you study. Still others are difficult to follow, and students may find that the best they can do is to write a few comments down. If you feel that a concept is important enough to include in your notes but you do not understand it, ask questions and include the answers in your notes.

Dealing with Visual Information

In some classes you will encounter visual demonstrations which help to clarify points and concepts but which are not accessible to you. Access to these demonstrations can be obtained in several ways.

  1. The professor may provide a verbal description while demonstrating. This may assist other students in the class as well. Along this same line, another student may provide quiet verbal feedback during a demonstration.
  2. You might discuss the demonstration during a meeting with the professor so that you can ask questions and, if practical, examine the demonstration or a model of it by touch.
  3. Copies of maps, diagrams, formulas and example problems, and other such materials can be made by the professor, an assistant or another student for use with low vision aids or a reader at a later time.

Reading Assignments and Class Notes

In many cases the content of classroom presentations parallels that of reading material. Staying ahead in your reading will help provide structure for your notes as well as reinforce the content you choose to include. Furthermore, overlapping content is most likely to be most important for you to remember. This does not mean that the rest of the content can be ignored, but it does often provide a guide to what the bulk of test questions will cover.

Employing Note Takers

In recent years, employing other people to take notes has become a popular practice among students who are visually impaired. The advantage of this practice is that the employed note taker can include information about visual demonstrations which is necessary to successful performance in a class. The disadvantage is that the student who is visually impaired can very easily become a passive learner and even become encouraged to stop attending class and to depend on the employee’s attendence and judgment.

Taking notes has many advantages for all students. Not only does it provide access to the material presented at a later time for study, but it also keeps the student’s attention focused on the presentation and causes him to think about the material, making decisions about what is and what is not important. In many cases it encourages participation in the class through questions or comments, and this participation further enhances the learning process.

For these reasons, it is very important that students who are visually impaired or blind take notes as independently as possible and rely on assistance for things which truly require assistance. The rewards to you in grades and time saved because your notes are already in the appropriate format will be great.

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