Friday, November 20, 2015

Recorded lectures - what's the point?

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A college of mine raised an interesting question. Why do we automatically record so many lectures and meetings that no-one ever watches? Just because we can easily record and store events doesn't mean that we have to. The problem is that many universities are now recording all their lectures without really pausing to think why they are doing so. Many are watched by a very small number of people, often only for a few minutes per person, and some are never watched at all. Should we maybe think more carefully about what we record and how long it should be available?

It's part of our passionate and rather tragic love affair with lecturing - breaking up is indeed very hard to do. It's is the backbone of most university teaching; it's easy to do, it's very scalable and it feels like teaching. Lecture capture systems are extremely popular, probably because we can continue lecturing as usual but feel modern because they're all available online as well. Nothing has changed, just a nod in the direction of some kind of modernity. Then there's the flipped classroom approach which in its simplest interpretation means pre-recording the lecture and letting students view it as preparation for discussion or workshops in class. That at least avoids gathering students to simply listen to one-way communication but the point here is if you are going to flip the class, why is the lecture the option of choice? I'm certainly guilty of recording quite a few sessions like this and admit that viewing figures are far from viral. Do we really learn so much from lectures and could we use that time more fruitfully?

I don't mean that the lecture should be completely abandoned. A really polished and well delivered lecture can certainly inspire and provoke discussion and reflection but maybe it should be used sparingly, as an event that cannot be missed. Instead we could focus more on shorter inputs on the lines of a TED talk, offering insights but also asking questions that the students should find out for themselves. Critics will warn that such an approach risks simplifying everything into convenient and easily digested "sound-bites". But the point here is to replace the lecture with something else, not a just a shorter version. Instead we should record a short introduction to the subject that raises questions and issues for the students to investigate and process. Start a discussion, provoke deeper thought, inspire investigation, instead of providing all the answers. The lecture represents a spoon-feeding approach that is certainly appreciated by students who want to be fed but as long as we continue to lecture, face-to-face or online, it is hard to move towards student-oriented learning.

So before you decide to press that record button stop and think about the value of your lecture. Do I need to demonstrate how much I know or do I want to encourage the students to investigate for themselves, search for information, compare sources, analyse results and present their findings? The answer is clear but I have a feeling it's going to be a difficult detox process.

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