Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why is lecture capture so popular?

The lecture is one of the holiest rituals in education going back hundreds of years and therefore is seldom questioned. At its best a lecture can be inspiring, provocative and entertaining as many of the popular TED talks clearly demonstrate. However an awful lot of them are rather tedious and do not contribute  very much to learning. Yesterday's bored students doodled, read a magazine or daydreamed. Today's bored students chat on the net. Why do we still believe that you can get a hundred individuals in a lecture hall and expect them to all learn in the same way from a monologue? Shouldn't we study whether this form of teaching is effective? Lectures are a part of the academic furniture and no course is complete without at least one a week. Students expect to be lectured to and teachers are expected to lecture. Noone wonders if the emperor has any clothes on or not.

Lecture Hall by ahyang, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  ahyang 

Today's technology gives us limitless opportunities to explore new pedagogies but instead we use technology to continue doing what we've always done. Online lectures are everywhere, freely available from iTunes, Academic Earth, YouTube Edu and almost every university's web site. They're very popular and many of them are indeed excellent. On the other hand many of them should never have been released.

That's the subject of a critical article by Mark Smithers entitled Is lecture capture the worst educational technology?. He's not against lectures when done well but the practice of simply recording every lecture on campus and putting it on the net is largely counter productive. A dull lecture is twice as dull on the net.

"Traditional lectures aren’t designed for online delivery. They’re too long. Their length is designed to fit in with the timetabling constraints of the buildings in which lectures take place not for any pedagogical reason. Why should this physical constraint be allowed to migrate its way into flexible online delivery?"

The answer is to divide the lecture into shorter sessions and record them with a net audience as the target. Smithers states that mass use of lecture capture is simply an easy way out for universities under pressure to show that they are keeping up with digital development. Filming lectures shows you are involved in online learning without having to change your methods and traditions. Universities who really use the potential of the net (like, say Open University or Athabasca University) have had to invest an awful lot of time and resources rethinking how they teach and plan courses. That costs money and forces a lot of radical changes. Not everyone is ready to open Pandora's box.

"The argument is that staff can deliver their material online but still maintain their traditional delivery practice as well. That is to say, all they need to do is click a button and they’re delivering material online. I’m not really quite sure why an ability to avoid providing staff development is seen as a positive attribute for an edtech but it would seem to the case here. Actually, I do know the reason, it’s because staff development involves cultural and organisational change within a higher education institution and that is much harder than installing servers and recording devices."


  1. I agree with you completely. I'm using lecture recordings for specific topics and they are variable lengths - but generally between 11 and 25 minutes and accompanied by project work, readings, and discussion sessions.

  2. I work for Tegrity, and the reality is that our lecture capture solution is used for a lot more than capturing lectures, such as recording tutorials, exam review sessions, internal training and even for freshman orientation.

    Also, keep in mind that in most cases, institutions are not using lecture capture to deliver the lecture online. Rather, they are using it so that students who come to class can go back and review the material at their own pace. While there are some students who skip class and watch the lectures online, that represents a small minority. Institutions typically raise this as a concern, but it never materializes.

    Furthermore, the better lecture capture systems let students quickly get to the content they want to review, so that they don't have to watch a lengthy lecture online. They do this through search capabilities, bookmarking, thumbnails and more. In fact, our metrics show that students typically watch about 15 to 20 minutes of an hour long lecture, and they jump around in order to better comprehend the material they are having trouble with. It is especially helpful with today's growing population of ESL students.

    Lecture capture solutions that allow students to record, add another dimension to this discussion. Our solution is used to enable students in communications, business and other courses submit their own recordings for assignments, and often the instructor will create projects where students can even review each others recordings.

    Lecture capture is popular because a) it's easy to use and b) it doesn't require that teaching styles change, and c) it can be used in innovative ways to enhance learning for those instructors that are willing to change their teaching style. It is this flexibility that appeals to institutions. And by the way, students love it.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I agree with most of your statements about lecture capture but in answer to some of the claims please look at Mark Smithers' article that I refer to.
    I believe that unedited fly-on-the-wall lectures are often rather uninspiring to all who did not attend the original and should not therefore be open to the rest of the world. However for the students involved it's good to be able to review the content. However for net learners I believe it's better to record shorter and more rehearsed lecture sessions aimed at a net audience.

  4. Thank you Alastair. Very interesting indeed.
    You claim: "However for net learners I believe it's better to record shorter and more rehearsed lecture sessions aimed at a net audience." You say that "you believe" this. Excuse my ignorance but do you ground this claim in any kind of research or it is just a based on an intuition? Thanks!

  5. Thanks for your comment. It's based on personal experience from many people who say that long fly-on-the-wall lectures can be tedious whereas a series of shorter and more focused modules made for the web audience is more digestible. I should of course back this claim up with research and I suspect there is something out there but I can't give you a reference.

  6. Thanks again Alastair.
    Well, this is interesting. I have been hearing this idea that short lectures are better for a net audience as if it was an obvious truth but I have not seen any research that supports the claim. I personally (and I know many of my students agree) enjoy A LOT long "digital" lectures.You can stop them whenever you want, you can go back and listen again difficult parts etc. I.e. they are not tedious at all. I think this is just a matter of personal taste and as such it must be treated :-)

  7. I think that the idea that you can listen to a lecture capture whenever you want and effectively have class whenever you want is very appealing to a lot of people. Life at school is complicated enough as is but when you factor in a job and other things that call upon your attention it's hard to find all of the time that you need. So I can understand why this is such a popular option.

  8. Thank you very much for your article. I think the reason that I like lecture capture so much, is because of its versatility. I can choose to skip out on class completely, or I can go to class and use the recording to listen to teacher at my own speed. I like this second option best because I can still ask questions during class, but I can also learn at my own pace when I get home.