Instructional Media: Handouts and Printed Materials

The issue of whether to distribute handouts and materials has often been debated in NUS teaching seminars with valid arguments for and against the practice. The main objections to distributing handouts and materials are that recourse to them will encourage students:

  • to be distracted and inattentive and not write their own notes;
  • to spot examination questions;
  • not to attend classes;
  • not to read beyond the content as outlined and highlighted.

Despite these criticisms, handouts and materials are sometimes still appropriate and necessary to help improve your teaching. You are the best judge of the situation. The relevancy and effectiveness would depend on your instructional strategy, objectives, design and utilisation of your materials. Once you have concluded that the handouts and materials would help you improve your teaching, you should then proceed to give thought to the purpose, content and design of the articles you plan to distribute.

The following considerations would be pertinent if you want to ensure that your handouts and materials are purposeful, well-planned and designed:

  • Provide a list/lists of books and journals with priority markings for first-line compulsory reading, strongly recommended reading and for reference. These notations and brief comments will guide students through the reading lists. Long comprehensive reading/reference lists without directions will simply overwhelm average students.
  • Construct handouts that contain outline summaries, worksheets with listing of key issues in diagrammatic/pictorial forms and so on, consisting of information and key points that are crucial to students’ understanding of the subject matter. Such handouts allow students time to see and hear your presentation, and not have to desperately try taking down all the information and details before you move on to the next stage of your teaching plan.
  • Design handouts in an interactive format by allowing writing spaces between statements or at the margins for students to write notes. For emphasis or direction, ask students to underline a phrase, circle a word or fill blank spaces with key words, etc. as you teach.
  • Lay your contents in an attractive and uncluttered fashion. Your lettering must be easy to read and not be too decorative or illegible.
  • Ensure that students know the purpose of your handouts. Start each handout with a title and a statement of objective or introduction.
  • Use letters or numbers for easy reference and filing. Colour code your handouts to indicate that they are of a different subject matter or section.
    Time your distribution to match the appropriate stage of your presentation. The choice in doing it before, during and after the presentation would depend on your planned objectives, and the desired effect you hope to achieve in using handouts and materials.

Producing and distributing handouts and materials can be time-consuming and expensive, especially when you try to fully cover the course. This is not recommended unless you have strong and valid reasons. Occasional but appropriate materials distributed to support the right reasons and distributed at the right time would certainly help to achieve your teaching objectives effectively. Student learning would also be enhanced, and made more efficient and interesting. These materials would subsequently form the backbone for students to flesh out with their own notes—and in so doing, create a valuable resource for reference and revision.