Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fly-on-the-wall lecture capture doesn't work

A lot has been written about the power of MOOCs to democratize education, making courses from the world's elite universities available to all at the click of a mouse. This is true to a certain extent since the key players in the mass-MOOC market are the likes of Harvard, MIT and Stanford but the problem is that the rest of the world is still on the outside looking in. True we can now gain an insight into how courses are taught at the top universities but only by pressing our faces against the shop window. The real courses are still elite and exclusive and we certainly don't get any credentials from these institutions for completing their online courses.

An article in Mindshift, Is Online Education Widening the Digital Divide? sees these MOOCs as leading to a wider division between the elite and the rest rather than the reverse. The article takes the case of teachers at San Jose State University who were asked to use material from a Harvard MOOC with their students and refused. The problem was that the course material consisted of recorded lectures and interaction between the teacher and the Harvard class. This type of fly-on-the-wall lecture filming is of course simple and cheap to produce but it reinforces the feeling of exclusion for the online student. The teacher addresses a visible audience of elite students and not the wider online audience. The online students are looking through a window at the elite students and their teacher rather than directly being involved.

According to Peter Hadreas, professor and Philosophy Department Chair at San Jose State University:

“We have a very diverse student body and we’re very proud of that,” Hadreas said. “But they would watch Michael Sandel teach Harvard students and he would interpolate into his talks and dialogues how privileged they were. And they were for the most part, certainly to a greater extent, white than our student body. So we’ve got, on the one hand, this strange sort of upstairs/downstairs situation where the lower-class people could look at how the upper-class people were being educated. We thought that was just flat out insulting, in a way, to the students and certainly not pedagogically reinforcing.”

The classroom session works well just there in the room but loses all its impact when filmed because the classroom interaction is missing for the online audience. Many universities are moving away from classroom lecture capture, replacing one hour lectures with a series of short lecture segments recorded direct in front of the camera so that the teacher is speaking to the online learner without classroom students in front of them. That eye contact can make a lot of difference and create the feeling that the teacher is addressing me.

What works in the classroom does not usually work online. Filming a classroom session is only useful to that class as a record of their work and as revision material. Don't show it to online students.

1 comment:

  1. Alastair,
    I couldn't agree more that "fly-on-the-wall" lecture capture isn't a replacement for true e-lectures in a remote learning environment.
    On the other hand it certainly isn't true that Universities are moving away from lecture capture - especially since it is of great use to students that actually attended the class.LectureCapture has been shown to increase comprehension and grades for students that use recorded lectures for review of lectures they attended. I actually think that we will see even more use of lecture capture - but of the "good enough" crowd sourced lecture capture that students will do for themselves and their classmates.

    Given the technology that most students have in their pocket, crowd sourced lecture capture is a great way for students to learn more and get better grades. In fact - why shouldn't EVERY lecture and exercise be captured?

    LectureMonkey ( makes ubiquitous lecture capture possible by enabling a mobile device to be anyone's automated lecture note taker, automatically combining lecture capture (high quality audio, board images and presentation capture) and collaborative comments into a crowd sourced, multimedia summary of a class. Students can capture any lecture anytime - needing nothing more than their mobile phone.

    Just think of the benefits of students having ALL their lectures and notes in their pocket or in a browser ready for review - available anytime, anywhere.