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UG CamGuides: How will I learn at Cambridge?

Different learning environments, both physical and online

The Academic Year 2020/21

For the academic year 2020/21 teaching will be delivered by a blend of in-person and online teaching, and we will adapt our timetables, teaching methods, course content and locations for delivery of teaching to achieve this. The balance of the blend will depend on the stringency of social distancing and other regulations in force at the time. Where possible, teaching by seminars, practicals, and supervisions will be delivered in person, and it may even be possible for lectures to smaller groups to be given on this basis. In any case, all lectures will be recorded and made available online. If large-scale lecturing in person becomes permissible, the University will reintroduce it as soon as possible.

The working remotely page provides tips on learning from recordings and learning in webinars, and useful information on the technology to enable this to happen. 


With thanks to:

Zadie (Classics)

Hearing from the experts

Lecture to students at CambridgeMany lectures are delivered by leading academics working at the forefront of their field, so they are a fantastic opportunity to find out about the latest research as well as the core principles in your subject. Depending on your discipline, you may also have practitioners delivering lectures to give you an insight into the applications of your subject.

Lectures also act as a starting point for your own studies. They give you an entry point into a topic or theme which you can then research further through reading or practical work.

In most STEMM subjects, lectures will give you all the information that you need to prepare you for solving the problems you will be set in supervisions and exams. You'll be expected to attend them all so that you don't miss an aspect of the course; you are less likely to have as much independent study time as students in other subject areas.

In the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, you'll probably need to do further reading based on what you have heard in lectures. They may be intended to spark ideas, include key thinkers and events, and introduce new methodologies. In these subjects, lectures may be useful for a particular essay, others for exams, and some will help deepen your understanding of the topic you are studying.

Lectures usually involve the lecturer speaking from the front, although some will be more interactive than others. The scale varies hugely depending on how many people are taking a paper (module); the number of students ranges from single figures up to several hundred.  Lectures may take place in a traditional lecture theatre, with seats facing forward, or in a more relaxed seminar-style environment, seated around a table. Lectures can also take place online. A single lecture lasts for just under an hour.

Skills associated with lectures

Some lecturers provide a detailed handout of what they are going to say so that you can annotate in the margins, others will be recorded so you can listen again, while some may simply be a long talk with no teaching aids. Whatever the case, you'll need to become proficient in taking notes from a lecture. If you haven't been provided with a detailed handout, don't feel that you have to be good at writing everything down quickly. Quite the opposite, in many subjects you need to train yourself to be able to listen and just write down the most important points to help jog your memory when researching further. In these subjects, it is a good idea to get down dates, names, technical information, or further reading. In other subjects you might be required to copy down a worked example. In this case you'll need to practise being precise. The purpose of a lecture is to help you when working on problems or writing essays and you'll soon learn how much information you need to write down to help you with these tasks.

Look at the Note making page of the Skills section to find out more.

lightbulb icon​What is a lecture like?

Watch this lecture by Professor David Tong on 'Einstein, Relativity and Gravity Waves'.

It was originally delivered to an audience of school students aged 16-17 in 2014. There is some maths in in the lecture but if you aren't studying a STEMM subject, it is a very accessible, with lots of stories! It is 45 minutes long, close to the actual length of a lecture at Cambridge University.

While you are watching, try to remember the main points. You will probably find this easier if you take a few notes. If you have already read the Note making section of the Skills guide, you could try out one of the techniques to capture the ideas and terms used in the talk. If you are a STEMM student, make a note of the equations he uses. If you are an Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences student, record key figures, dates and theories.

Guest lectures or lecture series

From time to time you may find that your department/faculty offers lectures that aren't strictly part of your course but which enrich your understanding of the discipline. These may be delivered by academics from Cambridge but they often include eminent individuals from a host of international universities. Some are made public and you will find that they can get very busy! These are a super opportunity to hear from key figures. On any one day there can be tens of different events to engage with. Keep an eye out on the University Events pages but you'll also come across details of events when you are in your college and department and from posters on railings around the city.

Image credits

Sir Cam/University of Cambridge. All rights reserved.

Film credits

We asked our students...: © Cambridge University Libraries. All rights reserved.
Einstein, Relativity and Gravity Waves: Millennium Mathematics Project. All Rights reserved