What Contact Hours at University are Really Like…

… by Fionnuala / from London / BSc Mathematics / 1st Year (UG)

I can remember, not that long ago, how nervous I was to start University. I was excited for the new adventure, meeting new friends and trying new things but it was slightly daunting not knowing what the teaching would be like. I understood that it would be completely different to school as that’s what everyone tells you but exactly how- I had no idea.

To start with, I have lectures at least three times a week for each course I take. These last 50 minutes each and are usually in one of the large lecture theatres on central campus around George Square. I remember my first lecture was slightly overwhelming, even before I walked in, as there are hundreds of students waiting outside unlike the 10 friends I might have seen queuing up outside a little classroom at school. However, after a while, you will soon start to find a group of friends who you will meet every week outside this Maths lecture who will become that circle of friends you recognise. From personal experience, I got to know a lot of these people from a Maths Society night out in Welcome Week. This allowed me to recognise lots of friendly faces the following week and have the confidence to go up to different people and talk before the lecture began. Some of the friends I have made through Maths lectures have turned out to be my closest friends whilst others are people I will enjoy catching up with before a lecture, nonetheless it is great to get to know people on your course for support.

During lectures, after a while you will find the row of seats on a particular side of the room which you and your friends will migrate to. You will take out paper/ laptop to make notes and your phone to be able to use TopHat (the online voting app we use in lectures). Usually the lecturer will start by going over a few key points from the reading, which you will have done in advance, followed by most of the lecture which is answering and explaining questions. Using the voting app, you will be given time to work out your own answer and vote. If there is a split in the answers given by the room, we will then usually have a few minutes to discuss it with the people sat around you, explaining why you think your answer is correct or listening to how someone else went about answering it which resulted in a different answer. The room will then vote again and more often than not, the results will show a clear shift and there will be a favourite answer. The lecturer will then go over the question and explain the concepts behind it.

I also have a workshop once a week for each Maths course I am taking. These last an hour and a half and are much smaller groups than in lectures. Within each workshop group, you are then subdivided into smaller groups who are each assigned to a tutor who is there to help you, answer any questions you may have and give you feedback on the homework questions you will have handed in the week before. Last semester I thoroughly enjoyed this time as I was able to work on challenging problems with a new group of people and I found I valued from the discussion which we had whilst solving problems. These sessions also formed a strong bond between the group members as we discussed Maths problems alongside packets of biscuits we would bring and organised a celebratory night out after our first university maths exam in December!